By FARAI MUTSAKA
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s constitutional court on Friday unanimously upheld President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s narrow victory in last month’s historic election after the opposition alleged vote-rigging, saying “sufficient and credible evidence” had not been produced.
The inauguration will be on Sunday in the capital, Harare, as a still-deeply divided Zimbabwe moves into a new era after Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Mnangagwa quickly called for calm and told 40-year-old opposition challenger Nelson Chamisa “my door is open and my arms are outstretched.” Chamisa’s party said it would respect the court’s ruling but noted: “The sombre mood in the country in the wake of today’s court verdict is in itself a telling statement.”
Speaking on state television, Mnangagwa called the election the most transparent and credible in the country’s history. Mugabe’s long rule had been marked by harassment of the opposition and rigged votes.
After the ruling a lawyer for the opposition, Thabani Mpofu, told reporters “it’s up to you to conclude” if justice had been served. “Good fight,” he added, walking away.
“As far as the legal processes are concerned this is the end of the road,” said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party’s secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora. “But we have other avenues … we can demonstrate.”
Security was tight in the capital amid concerns about possible unrest. After the ruling, the streets remained calm while some people celebrated outside the ruling ZANU-PF party headquarters.
The July 30 vote was peaceful but scenes of the military sweeping into the capital two days later to disperse opposition protesters — six people were killed — led to fears that Mnangagwa’s government was stuck in the past despite declarations of reforms.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, a former enforcer for Mugabe, took power after Mugabe stepped down in November under military pressure. While the public at first cheered the military for its role in removing Mugabe, feelings cooled closer to the election as the opposition worried about its potential influence during the vote.
A credible election in Zimbabwe is key to lifting international sanctions on the once-prosperous southern African nation.
Mnangagwa welcomed dozens of Western election observers for the first time in nearly two decades. The observers offered mixed reviews, noting an election day with few issues but expressing concerns about the delay in announcing the presidential results; they were the first to be counted.
In a statement after the court ruling, the European Union delegation in Zimbabwe urged all sides to call for “calm and restraint in both victory and defeat” and called the recent increase in politically motivated human rights violations “unacceptable.”
Opposition figure and former finance minister Tendai Biti, who was denied asylum in Zambia and then charged at home with inciting public violence in the protests two days after the vote, said on Twitter that “we will take body blows but we will continue our fight for truth and justice.” His treatment drew international concern about a government crackdown on the opposition.
In going to court, the opposition sought either a fresh election or a declaration that Chamisa won.
The court on Friday said it was up to the opposition to prove its claims and it failed to do so, saying the best evidence would have been the content of the sealed ballot boxes but that route was not pursued.
The court’s ruling cannot be appealed.
The electoral commission had declared Mnangagwa won with 50.8 percent of the vote but later revised that down to 50.6, attributing the revision to an “error” but arguing it was not significant enough to invalidate the win. The court on Friday agreed. Chamisa received 44.3 percent.
As the court heard arguments on Wednesday, the opposition claimed the electoral commission bumped up Mnangagwa’s figures through double counts and the creation of “ghost” polling stations. It also alleged that some polling stations recorded more voters than those registered.
The court on Friday said the electoral commission had “debunked to some degree” all of the opposition’s claims.
“One shouldn’t perhaps get drunk on their own brew,” a lawyer for the electoral commission, Tawanda Kanengoni, told reporters after emerging from the courthouse. “In this instance, the maker of the lie ended up believing the lie.”
“We are ecstatic that the court has upheld the will of the people,” said Paul Mangwana, spokesman for the president. “Although this case has delayed our celebrations.”