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Mugabe Wins Again in Zimbabwe, Leaving Rival Greatly Weakened

Mugabe Wins Again in Zimbabwe, Leaving Rival Greatly Weakened

Published: 5 August 2013

The Zimbabwe Election Commission announced the results moments after the challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, denounced the voting, saying it had been rigged.

“This fraudulent and stolen election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political and economic crisis,” Mr. Tsvangirai, who won 33 percent of the vote, said in a news conference at his house. He demanded that a new election be held so that Zimbabweans could “freely and fairly elect a government of their choice” — a step that a spokesman for Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, quickly rejected.

Secretary of State John Kerry also cast doubt on the validity of the election in a statement on Saturday. “In light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the United States does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people,” Mr. Kerry said.

But regional election observers suggested that any flaws were not serious enough to invalidate the voting.

The victory was a stunning comeback for Mr. Mugabe. After the disputed 2008 election, in which he won fewer votes than Mr. Tsvangirai did, he was forced into forming a unity government. This time, Mr. Mugabe’s party won more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, giving it a supermajority that can make changes to the country’s Constitution without votes from other parties.

The election was also a vivid illustration of how Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, or M.D.C., has been outmaneuvered and outfoxed at every turn by Mr. Mugabe, 89, a wily survivor who endured colonial rule, a brutal guerrilla war and multiple attempts to unseat him during his 33 years as Zimbabwe’s leader.

“The party has been to blame for ZANU’s success across the board,” said Stephen Chan, a professor at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, who has written a biography of Mr. Mugabe. After the 2008 vote, the M.D.C. agreed to work with Mr. Mugabe’s party, but did not become an equal partner.

“What they got was a compromise deal that was almost worse than being in opposition,” Mr. Chan said.

One of the party’s biggest missteps came in June, after Mr. Mugabe unilaterally declared that an election must be held by the end of July, just six weeks later, usurping Parliament. The M.D.C.’s leaders were prepared to tell the heads of state who had gathered for the meeting of the Southern African Development Community, a regional trade bloc, that the party would boycott the election.

But the regional leaders at the meeting persuaded Mr. Mugabe to agree to ask the country’s constitutional court for a two-week extension, and his main challenger for the presidency, Mr. Tsvangirai, agreed to go ahead with the election, according to Douglas Mwonzora, the M.D.C.’s spokesman.

The courts refused to extend the deadline, and a messy, rushed election was held on Wednesday.

“We didn’t expect the Zimbabwean courts and Mr. Mugabe to go against the resolution of S.A.D.C.,” Mr. Mwonzora said.

It would turn out to be just one of a long list of miscalculations that have left the M.D.C., the most credible threat to Mr. Mugabe’s long rule, with not quite a third of the seats in Parliament and few options to contest the election results.

Mr. Tsvangirai plans to go to court, but the higher courts in Zimbabwe are filled with Mr. Mugabe’s loyal appointees.

The election results were a far cry from the 2008 vote, in which neither man won a majority. Mr. Tsvangirai then refused to participate in a runoff because of attacks that had killed hundreds of his supporters.

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