JOHANNESBURG/HARARE - This was supposed to be the poll that set Zimbabwe free: free from the longtime, increasingly oppressive rule of Robert Mugabe. Free from the suspicions and violence that have come to characterize elections, and free from the expectation that, yet again, the powerful ruling party would prevail, as it has since this nation won independence in 1980.
But the July 30 poll has only produced protests, then violent outbursts, in which security forces fatally shot at least six people. Now, a legal challenge is seeking the election to be overturned in the nation’s highest court. That ruling is expected Friday.
Opposition presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa has filed suit in the Constitutional Court, claiming his reported 44 percent share of the vote, which put him behind incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa’s razor-thin 50.8 percent victory, was inaccurate, and that he won.
International election observers have said the vote suffered from irregularities. On Wednesday, Chamisa’s lawyers presented what they said was clear evidence that the results had been falsified.
The nation anxiously awaits with the gnawing fear that yet again, nothing will change.
Zimbabwean author and academic Ibbo Mandaza said he agrees with the opposition. But like many of the nation’s top analysts, he expects the court to dismiss the election challenge on Friday.
Once the court rules, the constitution says the presidential inauguration must be held within 48 hours. On Thursday, the eve of the ruling, air force jets conducted flyovers in Harare in what appeared to be preparations for an event.
Mandaza said he and many other Zimbabweans feel the election results were decided by officials long before citizens went to the polls.
“It’s an indictment on the African state,” Mandaza told VOA. “It’s a cynical response to the population, to the people of Zimbabwe. I am disgusted.”
Zanu-PF’s secretary for legal affairs Paul Mangwana said he would not comment on an ongoing case. But he and other party brass have repeatedly expressed confidence in the poll. This was Mnangagwa’s first presidential run — he took power in November after Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military.
“We’ve prepared well for our case,” Mangwana said. “The rest is for the judges.”
This was Mnangagwa's first presidential run. He took power in November after Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military.
"We've prepared well for our case. The rest is for the judges," said Mangwana.
Opposition lawyer Dali Mpofu, one of two South African lawyers who were denied work permits and barred from the court, says what happens inside the court isn't the only challenge ahead for Zimbabwe.
"We can only say that the freeness and fairness of an election is not only determined on election day. These issues of climate and atmosphere, such as what is happening now, obviously contribute and the only good thing is that the international community is watching. Because although we are here as lawyers to talk about legality, there are also issues of legitimacy which are not in our hands," said Mpofu.
Mandaza believes the court's ruling will not be the end of the story.
"I think Mnangagwa's legitimacy is dented even more than ever before. If the intention was to sanitize and legitimize the coup, I think it has failed, dismally. The crisis continues," he said.
The court rules Friday afternoon, and according to the constitution, the presidential inauguration will be held within 48 hours.