Zimbabwe’s elections commission late on Saturday declared incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner of this week’s presidential election, saying he had secured roughly 53% of the vote versus his main challenger’s 44% share.
Mnangagwa was expected to secure re-election for a second term as analysts said the contest was heavily skewed in favour of the ruling ZANU-PF party, in power for more than four decades.
Many Zimbabweans voting at this election were desperate for change after two decades of relentless economic chaos but sceptical that ZANU-PF would allow any loosening of its stranglehold on power.
80-year-old Mnangagwa took charge after a 2017 military coup toppled Zimbabwe’s longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who had been in power since independence in 1980.
Until their fall-out in the months leading up to the coup, Mnangagwa was one of Mugabe’s closest lieutenants and served in top government positions including vice president and minister of state security.
Mnangagwa is nicknamed “The Crocodile”, an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for its stealth and ruthlessness.
He has been accused by opponents of being Mugabe’s political enforcer as the late ruler cracked down on dissent.
He was in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to his rival Joshua Nkomo.
Rights groups say 20,000 civilians, mostly from the Ndebele tribe, were killed in what has become known as the massacres of Gukurahundi, meaning “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”.
Mnangagwa denies responsibility but as president engaged traditional leaders of communities affected by the massacres on matters including compensation, reconciliation and healing.
Mnangagwa fashions himself as pro-business and, within months of coming to power, scrapped a local business ownership law championed by Mugabe.
The law, which required foreign-owned businesses including mines to sell majority stakes to locals, unsettled investors who held back investment.
However, the economic turnaround Mnangagwa promised when he took over has not materialised.
Zimbabweans still suffer from rampant inflation and sky-high unemployment as they did at the end of the Mugabe era, with many people dependent on dollar remittances from relatives abroad to make ends meet.