On July 30, for the first time since 1980, Zimbabwe held general elections without Robert Mugabe on the ballot. Many Western donor countries have had sanctions on Zimbabwe since 2002 because of the government’s political repression and human rights abuses — and promised to lift these once the country held free and fair elections. But free and fair do not appear to apply. Officially, President Emmerson Mnangagwa — a former Mugabe lieutenant who grabbed power in a November 2017 coup — won with 50.8 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff election. And his ruling ZANU-PF party won a two-thirds majority of 149 seats in parliament’s lower house, permitting it to amend the constitution at will. But those results are disputed. International election observers have pointed to irregularities. The opposition party has challenged the results, and the Constitutional Court must rule by Friday.
Here’s what you need to know about Zimbabwe’s irregular elections — and what’s at stake.
Observers from the European Union reported voter intimidation and lack of media coverage for opposition parties and candidates. U.S. observers reported that ZANU-PF used the military to intimidate voters, distributing food aid and other assistance only to party loyalists. The day after the election, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), declared victory, claiming it had information from party agents at polling stations. The MDC also charged that 21 percent of the official results forms were not posted at polling stations, as regulations require, and accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of manipulating the vote count to favor Mnangagwa.