HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe was declared the overwhelming winner Sunday of an election marred by the murders of scores of political opponents, death threats against voters and widespread international condemnation.
Mugabe was the only candidate in the race, his opponent having withdrawn a week earlier in protest of mounting violence against his supporters. Government election officials said Mugabe won about 85 percent of the vote, a tally that opposition party officials dismissed as meaningless.
The 84-year-old leader was immediately sworn in for a sixth term on the lawns of the presidential mansion and treated to a 21-gun salute. The stately ceremony marked a surreal end to a campaign that left at least 86 opposition supporters dead and many hundreds maimed or missing.
Mugabe was expected to depart Sunday night for Egypt to attend a major summit of African Union leaders, where Zimbabwe's political crisis will be at the top of the agenda. Several African heads of state have condemned the election and called for negotiations between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, although stalwart allies of Mugabe, such as South Africa, are likely to block more punitive measures.
The U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on African nations to impose sanctions on Mugabe's regime and bar any Zimbabwean official who participated in election violence from political negotiations.
"The African Union can help end the violence in Zimbabwe by taking the strongest possible action against Robert Mugabe and his government," Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
A spokesman for Tsvangirai's party, Nelson Chamiza, said African leaders had "a chance to help Zimbabwe, and we hope they are going to live up to the task."
Friday's runoff election followed a first-round vote in March, in which Tsvangirai won 48 percent to Mugabe's 43 percent, but not enough votes to secure an outright win. It was Mugabe's first-ever defeat in a presidential poll in 28 years in power, and it precipitated a brutal nationwide crackdown on opponents by fearsome youth militias loyal to the ruling ZANU-PF party.
In the days leading up to the vote, Zimbabweans said that militias went door-to-door in parts of the country warning people that they'd be beaten or killed if they didn't vote for Mugabe. Following the runoff, many voters were ordered to produce ink-stained fingers — evidence that they'd cast a ballot — or the serial numbers on their ballot papers, accounts that were confirmed by independent election observers.
Observers said that voter turnout was extremely low, but government election officials on Sunday reported 42 percent turnout — roughly the same as in the March election. That time, however, it took more than five weeks for officials to produce results.
After the result was certified, Mugabe invited Tsvangirai to attend the inauguration. Tsvangirai declined. Chamiza, the opposition spokesman, called the invitation "a big joke."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008