HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe (search) said Saturday that he hoped to stay in power until he was 100 as he celebrated an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections that all but his supporters and a few African neighbors said were rigged.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (search), or MDC, refused to accept the election results, saying Thursday's vote was flawed — a view shared by the United States and Britain.
The MDC held talks with southern African observers to point out huge discrepancies in the results but made no attempt to organize mass protests.
"This is a moment of victory for my party and the victory of my party translates itself, naturally, into a victory for our country," the 81-year-old Mugabe declared as results showed that he had cleared the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.
His ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (search), or ZANU-PF, won 78 seats, while the MDC got 41, according to final results issued Saturday by the chief election officer. An independent candidate picked up one seat. Under Zimbabwean law, Mugabe has the power to appoint an additional 30 lawmakers in the 150-seat chamber.
The results clear the way for Mugabe to set up a second parliamentary chamber representing traditional chiefs, retired politicians and other eminent Zimbabweans without holding a referendum. Critics charge the autocratic Mugabe wants to pack the senate with cronies to cement his influence and to pick a successor without elections.
But Mugabe made it plain that he didn't plan on stepping down any time soon.
"When I am a century old," he laughed, responding to a question about his retirement plans.
He was only half joking.
Mugabe, one of Africa's longest serving rulers, has no obvious heir apparent. His appointment of Joyce Mujuru as the country's first female vice president — and thus a potential successor — sparked a power struggle last year.
Parliament speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa, once tipped to take over from Mugabe, lost his seat in Thursday's elections. Jonathan Moyo, the former information minister and architect of Zimbabwe's repressive media laws who was sacked after he challenged Mujuru's appointment, was elected as an independent in a rebuff to Mugabe.
The MDC held crisis talks but came up with no clear plan of action.
"Today the world has seen the extent to which Mugabe is determined to hold on to power without due regard to the people," MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai (search) said at a news conference after the meeting of the party's executive committee.
"This election cannot be accepted as a reflection of Zimbabwe's will," he said.
At his news conference, Mugabe called on the opposition to accept defeat gracefully and said he would be willing to work with it inside and outside parliament. But he made it clear that he would not tolerate even peaceful protests by MDC supporters.
"They are not a peaceful people," Mugabe said. "Law and order instruments will be used to prevent any mass action that is likely to lead to lawlessness in the country."
Mugabe shunned the colorful traditional attire he wore on the campaign trail in favor of a sports jacket and tie but revealed his eccentric traits by standing between two life-sized stuffed lions in front of the state palace.
Police set up checkpoints on the roads leading to Harare to contain any trouble. Streets bustled with people shopping and going to work, reflecting a mood of widespread weariness with politics in a nation beset with crippling unemployment and inflation.
Norbert Ncube, a roadside cigarettes and phone card vendor, said the results did not seem credible.
"ZANU-PF had a majority in parliament in the past five years, but during that time we have seen factories shut down, jobs disappear and economic hardships increase. It will be worse now that they have more than the two-thirds majority," Ncube said.
Nearby ZANU-PF supporters sang, beat drums and danced in celebration.
Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk 50 percent during the past five years, and the unemployment rate is at least 70 percent. Agriculture — the country's economic base — has collapsed, and at least 70 percent of the population live in poverty.
Mugabe tried to rally support after the opposition's strong showing in 2000 with a land reform program aimed at righting racial imbalances in ownership inherited from British rule. Thousands of white-owned commercial farms were redistributed to black Zimbabweans in an often violent campaign that has crippled the economy.