HARARE (REUTERS) - President Emmerson Mnangagwa called on Friday (Aug 3) for Zimbabwe to unite behind him after he was declared winner of national elections, but the opposition leader insisted he had won and said he would use all means necessary to challenge the result.
Attempting to sound a conciliatory note, Mnangagwa vowed to be president for all Zimbabweans and declared his rival Nelson Chamisa would have a vital role to play in Zimbabwe's future.
He also said the military's use of deadly violence in which six people were killed following the vote would be investigated by an independent commission.
"To Nelson Chamisa, I want to say: you have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe's present and its unfolding future. Let us both call for peace and unity in our land," Mnangagwa said.
But Chamisa told reporters the army crackdown on opposition supporters had been authorised by Mnangagwa's ruling Zanu-PF because it had lost the election, the first since the army removed 94-year-old Robert Mugabe from office in November.
"We are going to explore all necessary means, legal and constitutional, to ensure that the will of the people is protected," Chamisa said.
Voting passed off relatively smoothly on the day, raising hopes of a break from a history of disputed and violent polls.
But the army's post-election crackdown and opposition claims that the vote was rigged revealed the deep rifts in Zimbabwean society that developed during Mugabe's four decades in power, when the security forces became a byword for heavy-handedness.
After three days of claims and counterclaims, 75-year-old Mnangagwa - a former spy chief under Mugabe - secured victory.
He polled 2.46 million votes against 2.15 million for 40-year-old opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced in the early hours of Friday morning.
"This is a new beginning. Let us join hands," Mnangagwa said on Twitter.
"We won the election freely and fairly, and have nothing to hide or fear."
Seeking to explain the army's post-election crackdown, he said later: "The police were overwhelmed and then they summoned assistance from the army to stop the wanton destruction."
But his efforts to repair the image of a country known for repression and economic collapse were hurt by a police raid on the headquarters of Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change.
Mnangagwa won 50.8 per cent of the vote, official figures showed, just over the 50 per cent mark needed to avoid a runoff. The delays in announcing the presidential results and the narrow margin of victory fuelled the opposition accusations of rigging.
He now faces the challenge of persuading the international community that the army crackdown and lapses in the election process will not derail his promise of political and economic reforms needed to fix a moribund economy.
European Union observers said on Wednesday cited several problems, including media bias and mistrust in the electoral commission. Its final assessment will be crucial in determining whether Zimbabwe can return to the international fold.
Chamisa, who accused the commission of trying to rig the vote, said it should release "proper and verified" results.
He told a news conference he would pursue all legal means necessary to challenge the result, which had serious legitimacy problems. He declined to divulge the specific action that his party would take to challenge the election outcome.
Christopher Dielmann, economist at Exotix Capital, said the immediate priorities for Mnangagwa would be to continue on the path of restoring the economy and boosting exports, helped by international engagement.
"By many accounts, this imperfect election delivered sufficient transparency, especially in relation to past results in the country, that should allow re-engagement to occur relatively smoothly."
Charles Laurie, head of country risk for Verisk Maplecroft, said for international investors, Zimbabwe's election was less about an MDC or a ZANU-PF win, and far more about electing a legitimate, stable and trustworthy leader.
"There is a bleak pall over Mnangagwa's win," he said.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa urged all Zimbabweans to accept the poll results.
Harare's traffic was thinner than usual. Water cannon and anti-riot police remained outside MDC offices, a reminder of the clashes between opposition and the security forces this week.
"We are not happy with this election but what can we do?" said Patience Sithole, a cleaner in Harare.
"We don't trust these observers, we don't trust these courts. I'm not sure things will ever change in Zimbabwe."
The Herald newspaper, which acts as a government mouthpiece, hailed the election as reflecting the will of the majority and admonished the opposition, decrying "a culture of rabble-rousing and sham protests of alleged rigging whenever a party loses."