Taking Oath, Mugabe Adds to His Rule of Zimbabwe

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Mr. Mugabe won a broad but hotly disputed victory in Zimbabwe’s national election on July 31, defeating his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, by nearly 30 percentage points. It was a surprising turnabout for Mr. Mugabe, 89, who won fewer votes than Mr. Tsvangirai did in the previous presidential election, in 2008, and was forced into forming a unity government.

Mr. Mugabe struck a conciliatory note in his televised inaugural speech, given in a stadium filled with thousands of cheering supporters. He praised Mr. Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders, and called for unity.

“We will have competition and winners and losers,” Mr. Mugabe said. “We shall never be competing to be Zimbabweans.”

Mr. Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change, called the election a farce and rejected the result as illegitimate, a view shared by many local observers and the United States, which said the vote did not represent the will of the Zimbabwean people.

The voters’ roll was not made available until the day before the election, and it was only on paper, which is all but impossible to analyze for fraud and omissions. Many voters were turned away, and there was a high instance of voters’ requiring assistance, which is unusual in a country with high literacy rates like Zimbabwe, observers said. In previous versions of the roll, urban voters and young people — the core supporters of the opposition — were badly underrepresented.

Observers from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, a regional economic and trading bloc, also pointed out serious problems with the vote, but accepted the outcome.

The Movement for Democratic Change had filed a legal challenge to the result in the country’s Constitutional Court, but withdrew it when the government refused to hand over voting materials and other evidence the opposition needed to prove its case.

“It was clear that the whole exercise was fraudulent,” said Douglas Mwonzora, a spokesman for the party. “We did not get the evidence we needed, and the court would not allow us to lead evidence from witnesses. We had no means to make our case.”

The opposition had little hope in the courts in any case, Mr. Mwonzora said, since they are packed with Mugabe loyalists. Indeed, the court decided to rule despite the withdrawal of the challenge, declaring on Tuesday that the election had been free and fair.

“They just wanted to create a judgment in favor of Mugabe,” Mr. Mwonzora said.

The election was meant to end the crisis that has plagued Zimbabwe since the disastrous 2008 presidential election, in which Mr. Tsvangirai won the most votes but refused to participate in a runoff because of violent attacks on his supporters. Regional powers brokered a deal that created an uneasy coalition government that retained Mr. Mugabe as president and made Mr. Tsvangirai prime minister.

Despite his victory, Mr. Mugabe faces a difficult road ahead. His health is believed to be frail, and his party, ZANU-PF, is deeply divided over who will succeed him. The country’s economy is fragile.

And despite accepting his victory, few of Mr. Mugabe’s fellow African leaders were eager to help him celebrate his inauguration. South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, begged off, sending a deputy instead.

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