Zimbabwe election: Gov’t warns of crackdown after deadly violence


Zimbabwe election: Gov't warns of crackdown after deadly violence

In Summary

  • Zimbabwe's government warned it would crack down on dissent after three people were killed in clashes on Wednesday.
  • Hundreds of opposition supporters were protesting in the streets when automatic gunfire was heard as police and the army attempted to dissuade them.
  • Chamisa's spokesman said that protesters were not violent and the deployment of soldiers was unnecessary.

Zimbabwe’s government warned it would crack down on dissent after three people were killed in clashes between opposition protesters and security forces, overshadowing parliamentary and presidential elections.

The government “will not tolerate any of the actions that were witnessed today,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said in a late-night Press conference.

“The opposition… have perhaps interpreted our understanding to be weak, and I think they are testing our resolve and I think they are making a big mistake.”

The violence, which tainted the Zimbabwe election since the toppling of veteran leader Robert Mugabe, prompted statements of concern from the United States, United Nations and the United Kingdom.

On Thursday morning, there was uncertainty over whether protesters would take to the streets again, as armed military police patrolled the capital Harare, where Wednesday’s violence had broken out.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party won a sweeping majority in parliament, electoral officials said, but the results prompted accusations of poll rigging among the opposition.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change insisted its leader, Nelson Chamisa, who took over the party’s leadership following the death of founder Morgan Tsvangirai in February, won the presidential election.

“THANK YOU ZIMBABWE,” he tweeted Wednesday. “I’m humbled by the support you have given to me as a Presidential Candidate. We have won the popular vote. You voted for total Change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your WILL #Godisinit.”

Supporters of Zimbabwean opposition MDC Alliance Party rip up an electoral poster in support of ZANU-PF party in Harare

Supporters of Zimbabwean opposition MDC Alliance Party rip up an electoral poster in support of ZANU-PF party in Harare.

Hundreds of opposition supporters were protesting in the streets on Wednesday when automatic gunfire was heard as police and the army attempted to clear them. Tear gas and a water cannon were also used as crowds fled the scene.

Security forces reportedly beat up protesters. Burning tires could be seen on the roadside while armored vehicles patrolled the capital and a police helicopter flew above.

Mnangagwa responded to the unrest by urging his country’s political leaders to pursue a peaceful resolution to the uproar.

“As this day that ended in tragedy comes to a close, I implore all political and community leaders to utter these words loudly and clearly to all those who follow them – “Seek Peace and Pursue it!”,” he tweeted.

A protester is hit in the face with a water cannon outside of the gates of the ZImbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) during a protest against polling results in Harare.

Earlier he had blamed the MDC for the violence, saying its party leaders had abetted “acts of political violence.”

The US Embassy in Harare, the UK and the UN issued statements saying they were concerned about the unrest.

“We urge leaders of all parties to call for calm from members of their respective parties. We further urge the Defense Forces of Zimbabwe to use restraint in dispersing protestors,” a US embassy statement said.

A statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s office said: “We call on the political leaders and the population as a whole to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence.”

UK foreign office minister Harriett Baldwin called for calm, saying that London was closely watching events in the former British colony.

“Call on Zimbabwe’s political leaders to take responsibility for ensuring calm & restraint at this critical moment,” she tweeted. “We’re monitoring the situation closely.”

Military tanks patrol the streets of the capital, Harare.

Officials have so far only declared the results of the parliamentary vote, which gave Zanu-PF two-thirds of the seats. International monitors called on the electoral commission to publish the results of the closely fought presidential race.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said that Zanu-PF had won 140 seats so far, and the MDC Alliance 58. ZBC state media reported. There are 210 seats in the National Assembly’s lower house.

Later the commission tweeted it had announced the results of 207 constituencies, without giving further details about the votes. “The results of the remaining 3 constituencies and presidential results will be announced within 5 days from polling day as stipulated by the law,” it added.

On Thursday morning the commission’s website was down. Reports said it had been hacked during the night, with pictures of injured protesters posted on it.

Dr Heike Schmidt, Associate Professor in Modern African History at the University of Reading, said it was likely the official results would be respected.

“Considering that there were major flaws in the 2008 elections that nevertheless led to a government of national unity, it is most likely that that the official results will stand”, she said.

“The question now is whether the MDC and its leadership are able to represent their voters in parliament so that Zimbabwe finally has a strong opposition in government again, for the first time since 1987.”

Opposition party supporters react after police fire tear gas in Harare.

Severe challenges

Mnangagwa, 75, took power after helping orchestrate a de facto coup against Mugabe in November. He has tried to rebrand Zanu-PF, pledging to heal divisions and rebuild the country.

Known as “the crocodile” for his political cunning and longevity, he is still widely considered to be Mugabe’s man because he worked so closely with him for more than 40 years, first as his special assistant during the 1977 liberation war, and later as security minister and justice minister.

Chamisa — the country’s youngest ever presidential candidate — has aimed to appeal to younger voters with promises of electoral reform, tax cuts and jobs.

While his message may strike a chord, he does not have the same level of backing from the security forces and military, which oversaw Mugabe’s departure.

Responding to the unrest Wednesday, Chamisa’s spokesman said that protesters were not violent and the deployment of soldiers was unnecessary.

Zimbabwe faces severe challenges as it seeks to recover from an economic crisis dating back to Mugabe’s rule.

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