By MacDonald Dzirutwe
Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court confirmed President Emmerson Mnangagwa's disputed July 30 election victory on Friday, dismissing an opposition challenge that had held up his inauguration, which will now be held on Sunday.
Before the vote, Mnangagwa had said a credible election could pull Zimbabwe out of its diplomatic isolation under former president Robert Mugabe, ending international sanctions and prompting an economic recovery.
Instead, the vote left the nation polarized, with Nelson Chamisa, who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), mounting the legal challenge and violence flaring on the streets of Harare.
In a unanimous ruling of the nine judges of the country's top court, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said Chamisa had failed to prove allegations of fraud during the presidential vote.
"Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is duly declared the winner of the presidential elections held on the 30th of July 2018," Malaba said in his ruling.
Chamisa had earlier said he reserved the right to take alternative actions, including peaceful protests, if he lost the legal case.
On Friday, he did not spell out his next step but told his supporters on Twitter that he would consult them on the "course of action to be taken to rescue our beautiful Zimbabwe from the jaws of poverty, corruption & dishonesty".
The election, in which Mnangagwa and Chamisa were the main contenders, was touted as a crucial step toward shedding Zimbabwe's pariah reputation and securing international donor funding to revive an economy suffering chronic shortages of investment and cash, as well as high unemployment.
An army crackdown in response to post-election violence by opposition supporters left six people dead on Aug. 1, recalling the heavy-handed security tactics that marked the 37-year rule of Mugabe, who was removed in a coup last November.
Mnangagwa 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 reforms to overcome corruption and mismanagement under Mugabe.
After the ruling was delivered, the president called for peace on his Twitter feed.
"Nelson Chamisa, my door is open and my arms are outstretched, we are one nation, and we must put our nation first. Let us all now put our differences behind us," he said.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa told Reuters that Mnangagwa would be inaugurated on Sunday.
At ZANU-PF's offices, hundreds of supporters in the party's green and yellow colors followed Malaba's judgment on television, erupting into song and dance after their candidate was confirmed as president.
"He won the battle," a supporter told Reuters TV, adding that while Mnangagwa's enemies were trying their best, "they fail".
MDC Secretary General Douglas Mwonzora told reporters outside the court that "whatever we do as MDC we are going to act within the law ... We want Zimbabweans who want to demonstrate to be allowed to demonstrate."
Outside the party's office, one MDC member questioned the judges' verdict. "It was not fair, they were favoring one side - ZANU-PF. The MDC had enough evidence but it was not considered," he said.
Police blocked roads around the court, a 19th century British colonial building just opposite Mnangagwa's offices in central Harare. Vehicles carrying water cannon reappeared on streets near the court house while riot police patrolled the city center in groups.
A Reuters witness said Harare was calm immediately after the ruling, with people going about their usual business.
In separate statements, the European Union urged all parties to "call for calm and restraint" after the court ruling, while the United States called for the parties to respect the "constitution and the rule of law."
"It is important that the new government engages all stakeholders in substantive discussions on the necessary reforms, including on further electoral reforms," the EU said.
The U.S. State Department made a similar appeal.
Before the ruling, the head of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches told Reuters it was speaking to senior leaders from ZANU-PF and the MDC to facilitate negotiations.
"We have been reaching out to both political parties to their highest level of leadership for us to explore a possibility of some form of dialogue," General Secretary Kenneth Mtata said.
(Writing by James Macharia Editing by David Stamp, Toni Reinhold)