Electoral commission says it will announce results from 10pm on Thursday
Police in Zimbabwe have launched a crackdown on opposition leaders, raiding their headquarters and accusing them of inciting violence during protests in the capital, Harare, that left six people dead.
A search warrant issued by a city magistrate and seen by the Guardian said Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and several others were suspected of the crimes of “possession of dangerous weapons” and “public violence”.
The warrant authorises police to search for and confiscate any evidence, including computers and documents, as part of their investigation.
The main headquarters of the MDC were closed on Thursday and guarded by a heavy contingent of police officers. A party official said 16 MDC workers had been taken away by the police for questioning.
Throughout the day the army patrolled the streets of Harare, after three people were shot dead on Wednesday when soldiers and police fought running battles with hundreds of protesters. Another three died of their injuries on Thursday, police said.
The protests were prompted by opposition fears that the count from Monday’s presidential election, the first since the fall of Robert Mugabe last year, was being rigged.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said it would start announcing results from 10pm (2100 GMT).
The election pitted Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, against Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who was a longtime Mugabe aide in the ruling Zanu-PF party before replacing him as president.
“Police came with a warrant of search and seizure,” Denford Halimani, an MDC lawyer, said of the raids on Thursday. “They claimed there were certain computers and other subversive materials. They wanted to seize those things and also get people that were inside. Perhaps it was a scare tactic. There was nothing the police retrieved.”
MDC sources said they feared the raids were aimed at preventing the party from establishing its own independent count of results in Monday’s poll, billed as the beginning of a new era for the impoverished country. A team at the headquarters had been collating forms from polling stations across the country to compile a tally to compare with that released by the ZEC.
“I have been representing clients against Zanu for 35 years and these are classic Zanu tactics,” said David Coltart, a founder member of the MDC.
The main post office, banks and many shops in Harare remained closed after Wednesday’s chaos. Traffic remained light and military helicopters flew overhead, with scattered debris and scorch marks betraying the scenes of violence from the day before.
“We are scared,” said Mildred Masara, a hotel worker. “We don’t know what’s going to happen now. I have to earn a living but I would like to be at home now.”
It is unclear who ordered the troops on to the streets to clear the unarmed protesters on Wednesday, but the clashes and resultant casualties are a huge blow to efforts by Zanu-PF to improve its image overseas.
Diplomats and western officials in Harare said Mnangagwa did not appear to have been responsible for the decision. This suggests significant divisions among the top officials of the ruling party over how to deal with angry and fearful opposition supporters.
Mnangagwa tweeted on Thursday that he had been “in communication” with Chamisa “to discuss how to immediately diffuse [sic] the situation, and we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear”.
He called for an independent investigation into the deaths on Wednesday and extended condolences to the families of the victims. “This land is home to all of us and we will sink or swim together,” he said.
In a series of media interviews, Chamisa criticised what he called a “violent government”, called for calm and repeated that he was confident of forming the next government.
The MDC leader denied there had been any communication with Mnangagwa and said his party would do “a lot of things within the confines of legality and the constitution to defend our vote” if the ZEC announced its defeat.
“Our people are already on the streets. They are jobless. That’s where they stay. If anything, we will need to call them off the streets … There has got to be a government of the people,” Chamisa said.
Though Mnangagwa’s earlier conciliatory statements reassured some observers in Harare, there was great anxiety among ordinary people around the country about what may happen in the coming days.
The ZEC, which legally has until Saturday to declare the winner, has repeatedly denied it has allowed Zanu-PF to rig the vote. There was “absolutely no skulduggery”, the deputy chairman, Emmanuel Magade, told a press conference.
A joint statement by foreign election observers expressed “grave concern” over Wednesday’s deadly violence and urged the electoral commission to release the full results “expeditiously” and in a transparent manner.
John Dramani Mahama, a former president of Ghana who leads the Commonwealth observer mission to Zimbabwe, said the use of force by the Zimbabwean army was excessive and the length of time taken to release results in the presidential poll was a concern.
Bright Matonga, a former ruling party minister, defended the delay. “The whole world is watching us. We cannot go outside the law. We cannot make a mistake. We want to make Zimbabwe an example of democracy in Africa,” he said.