Official results have now been released (although the electoral commission has not managed to get them on its website), and incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa is the winner of Zimbabwe’s presidential election, with 50.8% of the vote – about 313,000 votes ahead of his main rival, Nelson Chamisa from the Movement for Democratic Change, with 44.3%.
Turnout was reported as 70%, up about ten points on 2013.
The MDC is crying foul, and it naturally wins sympathy from the fact that six people were killed and more injured after troops opened fire on its demonstrators in the capital, Harare, earlier this week.
But the fact that the government overreacted to protests does not of itself mean the election was unfair. Following the usual pattern, the opposition is strongest in the major cities (the BBC has a map) while the ruling ZANU-PF draws support more from rural areas, so opinion on the streets of Harare is not necessarily a good guide.
And there is nothing implausible in the results. In terms of avoiding a runoff (which would have been held next month), Mnangagwa’s 50.8% is very close. But since the remaining votes were spread among 21 minor candidates – nomination requirements are evidently pretty lax – it would have been a big task for Chamisa to overtake him.
Best of the also-rans was Thokozani Khupe, from a dissident faction of the MDC, with 0.9%.
Of the 210 single-member seats in the House of Assembly, the lower house of parliament, 145 have been won by ZANU-PF (down 14 from last time) and 63 by the MDC (up 14). There are a further 60 seats reserved for women, elected from multi-member constituencies, in which the MDC will probably do a little better. There is no sign yet of any Senate results.
Despite this week’s violence, this looks like a much more democratic exercise than anything from the last two decades of the Mugabe era. Mnangagwa has the mandate he wanted, but also a serious opposition to hold him to account.
At a time when democratic backsliding is worryingly common, that’s not a bad result.
And don’t miss Michael Bartos’s report at Inside Story, which gives more of the background detail and which, like me, is cautiously optimistic.
PS: Malcolm Baalman’s analysis at On Elections is also well worth a read.