JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe is at a tense standstill as it awaits the results of a legal challenge to last month's presidential election, the first in decades without longtime leader Robert Mugabe on the ballot.
The nation went into last month’s general elections with great hopes — even the incumbent ruling party leader and president Emmerson Mnangagwa touted change as a central part of his platform.
He’s the official victor in the July 30 poll, winning 50.8 percent of the vote, but his inauguration has been indefinitely postponed by the court challenge. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change alliance said its candidate, Nelson Chamisa, who officially got 44 percent of the vote, actually won the poll.
"We're seeking a declaration to the effect that the presidential election was not properly conducted, was not conducted in terms of the constitution, was not conducted in terms of the electoral act, was not conducted in terms standards of fairness, transparency and accountability,” MDC lawyer Thabani Mpofu said at court on Friday.
International observers praised the poll for being peaceful but raised concerns over the environment around the poll and the campaign.
Even before results were announced, opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital, Harare, first celebrating what they claimed was a certain win, then protesting the delay in results, and then running for their lives after security forces fired live rounds, killing six people.
And for the first time in ages, even analysts say they’re not quite sure how this impasse will end.
“It’s a very precarious situation, sort of like hanging over a cliff, not very dangerously, but somehow, dangerously,” said Professor Annie Chikwanha, of the University of Johannesburg. “And that’s because of the uncertainties surrounding what will happen once the Constitutional Court has given its verdict.”
What analysts say needs to happen is unlikely: two men from different generations, different temperaments and different ends of the political spectrum and need to come together. Chamisa has outright dismissed suggestions of entering into a government with Mnangagwa, and said the two men have not spoken.
Chikwanha said they need to mend that bridge.
“Politically, it is important for whoever wins to take in, or bring the other one on board,” she told VOA in Johannesburg. “They may not want to do it, but there has to be some form of appeasement that would appeal to the general electorate and to the voters, or to the public that supports the loser.”
Analysts say they hope Zimbabwe can move forward, and that this election will, hopefully, be a blip in that journey.
“I said, far in advance of the 2017 coup that this would be an election that wouldn’t count,” said Zimbabwe analyst and professor David Moore of the University of Johannesburg. “Two thousand twenty-three would count, because the younger generation, which cut their teeth in the early 2000s against the regime, are now gaining maturity, having experience. And if they can maintain a hold over the MDC, and perhaps other opposition parties that might emerge, we will see a much different election.”
But right now, as Zimbabwe waits, that may be cold comfort for this very divided nation.