Zimbabwe’s national results hub was under guard from police armed with water cannons yesterday as the country awaited results from its general election.
Five years ago, at least six people died and many more were injured in protests outside the National Results Centre following the last vote, the first since independence in which former president Robert Mugabe was not a candidate.
This week’s election descended into chaos after delays blighted voting at polling stations around the country and the election was extended into an extra day. Meanwhile, dozens of workers for poll monitoring groups were arrested amid claims of "subversive and criminal activities" as part of an opposition plan to fabricate the results.
Results which have begun to trickle through from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission show Mugabe’s former party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) winning 38 parliamentary constituencies and the main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) winning 32, out of a total of 210 single-member constituencies.
However, ZANU-PF secretary for finance Patrick Chinamasa claimed that his ruling party was on course to achieve a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.
Police said late on Thursday night they had arrested 41 poll monitors and seized computers and other equipment they were using to tabulate the results of vote counting. Those arrested were working with two accredited monitoring organisations - the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Centre - which deployed over 7,500 observers nationwide.
However, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the workers were carrying out their mandate as election observers.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, who seeks a second term, used his presidential powers to extend balloting to Thursday night at dozens of polling stations after voting was delayed by up to 10 hours in many areas.He took over from Mr Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe since the 1980s, after a 2017 coup.
His main challenger, Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer who narrowly lost a disputed election in 2018, described the voting as a sham, saying the delays were aimed at disenfranchising voters in his urban strongholds.
Ballot papers were still being printed late on Wednesday, hours after voting should have closed. At other polling stations, counting of ballots began. Some frustrated voters slept at polling stations in the capital, Harare, snuggling under blankets or lighting fires to keep warm.
"We spent the whole night here," said Cadwell Munjoma, who was wearing an overcoat at a polling station in the middle-class Mabelreign suburb. "This is the first time in my life seeing a situation where people cannot vote because papers are not there. It's not making sense."
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission acknowledged the late distribution of ballot papers at some polling stations and blamed it on printing delays "arising from numerous court challenges". Governing party activists and the opposition had brought a flurry of cases over who could run in both presidential and parliamentary elections.
More than six million people were registered to vote at 12,500 polling stations across the country, although turnout has not yet been published.
Full election results are not expected until after the weekend.