HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s electoral panel on Saturday declared that longtime President Robert Mugabe had won re-election by a landslide, a result that could exacerbate tensions in the country, where the 89-year-old’s chief rival and former coalition partner has accused him of poll-rigging.
Mugabe seemed set to strengthen his hold over Zimbabwe after the state Election Commission said his party won 158 of the 210 parliament seats. That gives it a two-thirds majority in the legislature – enabling it to amend a recently approved constitution that provides for democratic reforms.
Challenger Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, which had gambled that a high turnout in its favor would overcome any alleged fraud in the vote, captured 50 seats and two went to independent candidates.
According to the results, Mugabe won 61 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Tsvangirai, who had been prime minister in a tense power-sharing deal with the president. Officially, Mugabe, who has been in power for 33 years, gets another five-year term in office.
Tsvangirai rejected the results as fraudulent and called for fresh elections. He urged a peaceful response to the alleged massive rigging by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, which has the muscle of the security forces to deter any groundswell of street protests.
In contrast to an election marked by deadly attacks in 2008, the vote on Wednesday was mostly peaceful and African poll monitors, while expressing some concern about reported irregularities, seemed mostly relieved that it was not violent.
Britain and the United States were more forceful in their criticism of the voting process, though Mugabe has based his career in part on sparring with Western powers and there is little chance their disapproval will sway him.
That leaves the Zimbabwean opposition with few options for countering Mugabe, who presides over a country that still has economic problems but enjoys some measure of stability compared to a period of soaring inflation years ago.
Tsvangirai said his Movement for Democratic Change party has in its possession evidence of massive rigging by Mugabe’s party in the just-ended polls and will challenge results from Wednesday’s voting in court.
“People of Zimbabwe must be given another chance to participate in a free, fair and credible election. They have been shortchanged by a predetermined election,” he said. He added that his party will not “participate in any government institutions” in protest but stopped short of saying it will boycott its reduced seats in the Harare parliament.