Zimbabwe’s veteran leader Robert Mugabe has been sworn in for a new five-year term in a massive stadium inauguration that was boycotted by his election rival.
Mugabe, 89, pledged “to observe, uphold and defend the constitution of Zimbabwe” in an oath administered by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, extending his 33-year rule.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai insists the July 31 vote that returned the 89-year-old to power for the seventh term was rigged and shunned the swearing-in.
The event took place at the country’s largest 60,000-seater sports stadium on Thursday, with around 40 world leaders invited.
Thousands of Mugabe’s supporters trooped in from across the country.
A constitutional court ruling confirmed Mugabe as president and declared the elections “free, fair and credible”, adding the results “reflected the free will of the people of Zimbabwe”.
But Tsvangirai’s spokesman said the opposition leader “couldn’t attend a robber’s party”.
The inauguration had been delayed after Tsvangirai challenged the poll results in a petition to the constitutional court.
Unlike previous investitures which were low-key, the ceremony was high-profile in what is seen as a show of power designed to confer legitimacy amid persistent questions around the vote, which extended Mugabe’s 33-year grip on power.
The electoral commission declared Mugabe winner with 61 percent of the vote, against Tsvangirai’s 34.
The elections ended a shaky power-sharing government formed by Mugabe and Tsvangirai four years ago to avoid a political conflict following a bloody presidential run-off election.
Local observers have judged the elections flawed and Western powers have raised serious doubts over the vote. But regional and continental groupings, the Southern African Development Community, and the African Union were less critical.
Tsvangirai condemned the election as “a farce” and “a massive fraud” and petitioned the court to overturn the result.
Among a series of complaints, he queried the suspiciously high number of voters who were turned away from polling stations in urban areas which are considered opposition strongholds.
He also charged that his party’s supporters in rural areas were intimidated by Mugabe party backers into feigning illiteracy and voting in the presence of police and election officers.
However on Friday, Tsvangirai withdrew his petition saying he would not get a fair hearing. But the constitutional court went ahead and handed down a ruling on the case anyway.