Zimbabwe's top court on Friday dismissed an opposition bid to have presidential election results annulled over alleged rigging in favour of Robert Mugabe's successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In a verdict widely predicted by analysts, Chief Justice Luke Malaba strongly criticised the MDC party's case and upheld Mnangagwa's win.
"The court finds the applicant has failed to place before it clear, direct, sufficient and credible evidence" of irregularities, Malaba said in his ruling at the Constitutional Court in Harare.
"There was no proof of the happenings of these irregularities as a matter of fact."
Mnangagwa, of the ruling ZANU-PF party, won the July 30 election with 50.8 percent of the vote -- just enough to meet the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off against MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 percent.
His inauguration would now take place on Sunday, justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told AFP.
Lawyers for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had argued that the results should be annulled due to alleged "massive doctoring" of the vote.
But the court backed lawyers representing Mnangagwa, ZANU-PF and the election commission who rubbished claims that the opposition had produced any substantial evidence of fraud.
- 'Time to move forward'? -
"I once again reiterate my call for peace and unity," Mnangagwa said in a television address after the ruling.
"Let us put whatever differences we might have behind us. It is time to build our nation and move forward together."
Paul Mangwana, a ZANU-PF spokesman, said outside the court: "We are ecstatic... President Mnangagwa won and that can no longer be disputed.
"He is now ready to deliver on his mandate to usher in a new Zimbabwe."
Mnangagwa, who has vowed to revive Zimbabwe's ruined economy, had hoped the elections would draw a line under Mugabe's repressive 37-year rule and open up a stream of foreign investment and aid.
Campaigning was more open and peaceful than previous votes under Mugabe.
But the election was marred by the army opening fire on protesters, killing six, allegations of vote-rigging and a violent crackdown on opposition activists.
The MDC had cited a catalogue of alleged discrepancies including incorrect counting, fake "ghost" polling stations, and at some polling stations more ballots being counted than there were registered voters.
MDC chief Chamisa tweeted "victory is not lost" and said that the party would listen to its followers in the continuing fight "to rescue our beautiful Zimbabwe from the jaws of poverty, corruption and dishonesty."
The party said that "the sombre mood in the country in the wake of today’s court verdict is in itself a telling statement."
- 'Un-level playing field' -
Derek Matyszak, a legal expert at the University of Zimbabwe, had predicted that the opposition faced an uphill struggle given the courts' historic tilt towards ZANU-PF, which has ruled since independence from British colonial rule in 1980.
"The outcome (was) pretty predictable," Matyszak told AFP.
The MDC's appeal, which was lodged hours before the deadline on August 10, forced Mnangagwa's inauguration -- planned for August 12 -- to be postponed.
International monitors largely praised the conduct of the election itself, although European Union observers said that Mnangagwa, a former long-time Mugabe ally, benefited from an "un-level playing field".
After the ruling, the EU issued a statement saying all parties should accept the verdict, adding that the new government needed to push through electoral reforms after a vote that had "revealed improvements as well as challenges."
Some ZANU-PF supporters celebrated at the party headquarters in Harare.
The nine judges delivered the unanimous verdict at the court amid tight security, though no protests were reported after the case.
Armed police patrolled in the second city of Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold.
The court could have declared a winner, called another election, or ordered a run-off or recount.
In a first for the country, the proceedings were broadcast live on state television.