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Southern African leaders were largely absent as Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president for a second term, with the country’s opposition trying to rally the region in favor of a rerun of the disputed vote.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi and Mozambique’s Filipe Nyusi attended Monday’s inauguration in the capital Harare, but 12 other members of the Southern African Development Community Leaders were not present.

Former spy chief Mnangagwa, 80, who took power for the first time since the 2017 military coup toppled Robert Mugabe, was formally re-elected last month with 52.6 percent of the vote, while his main rival Nelson Chamisa got 44 percent of the vote.

International observers say there are irregularities in the process, including delays in sending ballots to opposition strongholds, intimidation of rural voters, and other factors.

Rare criticism of the electoral process was also offered by observers for the Southern African Development Community, which has historically ignored signs of fraud under the leadership of Zimbabwe’s ruling African National Union-Patriotic Front party. This time, the regional body said the largely peaceful vote was flawed in some ways.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa shakes hands with Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi during his inauguration in Harare September 4, 2023

Mnangagwa, wearing a scarf, shakes hands with Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi during a ceremony on Monday © Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images

Chamisa’s Coalition for Citizens Change has abandoned using the courts to seek a re-vote, claiming the judges have been captured by the African National Union-Patriotic Front, opting instead to lobby governments across the region.

Analysts say that will be difficult because SADC still largely advocates non-interference in the politics of its member states, many of which are still ruled by former liberation movement colleagues of the African National Union-Patriotic Front, such as Ramaphosa’s African People’s National Assembly.

The CCC said Mnangagwa’s inauguration was “an act of colossal illegality and colossal illegality”. “With few heads of state in attendance, we advise Mr Mnangagwa to heed calls for new, free and fair elections,” the statement added.

Mnangagwa last took office in 2018, when Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court had rejected Chamisa’s challenge to the election results, when Mnangagwa officially won just under 51% of the vote.

In his inaugural speech on Monday, Mnangagwa insisted he had won a “peaceful, free, fair, transparent and credible” vote and dismissed critics of the African National Union-Patriotic Front.

Notably absent from the inauguration was President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, which shares dam power supplies and other ties with Zimbabwe.

Sichi Lema, the current chairman of the SADC Defense and Security Agency, appointed the agency’s Zimbabwe vote observer. The Zambian leader has repeatedly been attacked by officials from the African National Union-PF and Mnangagwa’s inner circle since the Observer published its findings, saying it is biased against the opposition.

Zimbabwe’s government on Monday targeted former Zambian president Edgar Lungu, who presided over Hichilema’s jailing as opposition leader before losing power in the 2021 election.

Wilbert Mandinde, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said that while Zimbabweans “may have resigned themselves to their fate” over the controversial polls, there was still room for dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition.

“The ANU-PF may not be keen to have such a dialogue, as its leader has been legally sworn in and is serving his second and final term. But politically, if other regional and international Leaders avoid him and it may be difficult for him to continue to function as normal,” Mandinde said. “There may still be a window of opportunity,” he added.

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