Zimbabwe's president declared election winner, opposition rejects result

Final ZANU-PF rally, in Shurugwi

By Nyasha Chingono and Nelson Banya

HARARE (Reuters) -Zimbabwe's elections commission said late on Saturday that incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa had won this week's presidential election with roughly 53% of the vote, but the opposition and analysts immediately questioned the result.

Mnangagwa, who took over from longtime leader Robert Mugabe after a 2017 army coup, was widely expected to secure re-election for a second term as analysts said the contest was heavily skewed in favour of the ZANU-PF ruling party, which has been in power for more than four decades.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Mnangagwa's main challenger, Nelson Chamisa, who leads the opposition Citizens' Coalition for Change (CCC) party, secured 44% of the presidential vote.

ZANU-PF supporters started singing and cheering at the results centre after the elections commission said Mnangagwa had won.

A CCC spokesperson said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that the party rejected "any result hastily assembled without proper verification".

Mnangagwa also narrowly defeated Chamisa at the last presidential election in 2018. The opposition alleges that election was rigged but the constitutional court upheld the result.

While the run-up to the election has been largely free from violence, the police routinely ban opposition rallies and arrest opposition supporters using Zimbabwe's tough public order laws.

ZANU-PF denies it has an unfair advantage or seeks to influence the outcome of elections through rigging.

The head of the European Union's observer mission on Friday said this week's vote took place in a "climate of fear". Southern African regional bloc SADC's mission noted issues including voting delays, the banning of rallies and biased state media coverage.

Nicole Beardsworth, a politics lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, said she thought the late Saturday announcement was probably a response to the critique by SADC and other election observers.

"We all have a lot of questions about the speed with which ZEC is announcing presidential results," she said.

Voting in this week's presidential and parliamentary elections was meant to be wrapped up within one day on Wednesday, but it was extended into Thursday in some wards after the late distribution of ballot papers.

(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono and Nelson Banya; Additional reporting by Carien du Plessis and Bhargav Acharya in Johannesburg; Editing by Alexander Winning and Daniel Wallis)