HARARE: Zimbabwe's opposition leader Nelson Chamisa on Friday lashed the results of the country's landmark presidential elections as "fraudulent" and "illegitimate" but signalled he would take the path of law to contest the outcome.
"We won this election and we are ready to form the next government," Chamisa told a press conference, after President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling ZANU-PF was declared victor with 50.8 percent of the vote.
Chamisa, leading the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), won 44.3 percent in the historic first election following the ousting of autocrat Robert Mugabe, according to the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC).
Chamisa charged that there had been flagrant rigging under ZEC, a body which under Mugabe was notorious for fraud.
"Mr Mugabe was at least sophisticated," he complained.
ZEC officials have robustly denied allegations of bias or rigging. Mnangagwa was named ZANU-PF leader after the brief military intervention which toppled Mugabe in November after 37 years of iron-fisted rule.
Chamisa called the electoral commission "opaque, partisan, arrogant".
"We are not accepting fake results," he said. "We are not accepting this fiction. We want a proper result to be announced. We will pursue all means necessary, legal, constitutional, to make sure we protect the people's vote."
Chamisa said the MDC would dispute the results through the courts, though a legal challenge appears to offer little hope of overturning the outcome.
He urged supporters to refrain from violence after troops opened fire on demonstrators in Harare on Wednesday, killing six people.
Chamisa's press conference at a hotel in Harare was delayed after riot police armed with tear gas broke it up, clearing journalists out of the building and prompting tense exchanges.
But it went ahead after acting information minister and ZANU-PF spokesman Simon Moyo told the police to stand down.
- 'A new Zimbabwe' -
Mnangagwa, who was chosen to lead ZANU-PF in November after the brief military intervention that deposed Mugabe, hailed the victory as a "new beginning" for Zimbabwe.
Soldiers and police came out in Harare in force on Thursday after the deadly unrest, clearing the city-centre, but by Friday the streets and markets were crowded as usual.
In the suburb of Mbare, jubilant ZANU-PF supporters waved party banners as music blared from a car.
"This is a new Zimbabwe, we are happy," said Tendai Mugadzi, a 32-year-old IT specialist.
He was untroubled that Mnangagwa had won by a wafer-thin margin.
"It just shows that this was a free and fair election," he said.
ZANU-PF also won a large majority in parliamentary elections held alongside the presidential vote.
- 'Mugabe's baggage' -
Charles Laurie of analysts Verisk Maplecroft said that after taking over from Mugabe, "Mnangagwa's task was not just to win the election, but to convince the international community of a new Zimbabwe by winning it cleanly and fairly".
"The killing of six protestors and questions over his government's conduct at the polls, means Mnangagwa drags virtually all of Mugabe's baggage into his presidency," he added.
He called the swift crackdown on protests "a stark demonstration of how Mnangagwa intends to rule".
Chamisa urged opposition supporters to refrain from violence, stressing he would challenge the results through the courts -- though such a move appears to offer the MDC little hope of overturning the outcome.
Since independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe has known only two presidents -- Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for 37 years, and his onetime right-hand man Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa was allegedly involved in voter intimidation during the 2008 elections when then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off after at least 200 of his supporters were killed in attacks.
The new president had promised a free and fair vote that would turn the page on years of brutal repression, end Zimbabwe's international isolation and attract badly needed foreign investment.
He faces massive challenges in his promise to restore an economy that Mugabe left in disastrous shape, presiding over the seizure of white-owned farms, a hyperinflationary surge and an investment exodus.
Previously solid health and education services are in ruins, while millions of Zimbabweans have fled abroad to seek work.
"We cannot even tell where we are going from here," said Stephen Nyangani, a 34-year-old clothes designer in Harare who does not earn enough to pay for school fees for his two children.
"I doubt our lives will improve," he added.