HARARE: Zimbabwe’s defeated opposition vowed on Wednesday to go to court to overturn the results of the country’s elections, as one of its senior members fled to Zambia to evade arrest.

Tendai Biti, a veteran figure in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claimed asylum in Zambia after making a dash for the border, reportedly facing charges of inciting post-election violence.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was on Friday declared winner of Zimbabwe’s first elections since the downfall of autocrat Robert Mugabe in November, but the MDC claim the ruling ZANU-PF party won through “mammoth theft and fraud”.

According to Zimbabwe’s state-run Chronicle newspaper, Biti is among nine suspects sought for inciting protests last Wednesday at which the army opened fire, killing six people.

Zimbabwe’s Interior Minister Obert Mpofu confirmed that Biti — an internationally-respected finance minister in the troubled 2009-2013 power-sharing government — was in Zambia.

The asylum drama came as the MDC said it would lodge a court challenge against the election results in which Mnangagwa won 50.8 per cent.

The result was just enough to avoid a run-off between Mnangagwa, the former Mugabe ally who replaced him, and his MDC rival Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 per cent.

The election has been marred by accusations of a post-vote crackdown on the opposition as well as the deadly protests and rigging claims.

Human Rights Watch has reported multiple cases of beatings and harassment in Harare’s suburbs as soldiers allegedly attack opposition supporters, sparking alarm from the European Union and United States.

The MDC headquarters were raided last week by authorities in what Mpofu described as “an attempt to destroy our evidence” for election rigging, but he said their data was secure. The MDC has until Friday to lodge its suit and the Constitutional Court must rule on the petition within 14 days — meaning Mnangagwa’s inauguration would likely be delayed.

Alexander Noyes, an analyst at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the legal case had little chance of success due to the courts’ “long-held bias” towards ZANU-PF. He added the MDC would likely cite a EU observer report that concluded the election was held on an “un-level playing field”, with Mnangagwa benefiting from state resources as well as a degree of voter intimidation.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2018