Zimbabwe's opposition argued in the country's top court on Wednesday that the presidential election results must be thrown out, alleging that only "massive doctoring" of the vote had kept Emmerson Mnangagwa in office.
Lawyers for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) launched a blistering attack on Mnangagwa, the ruling ZANU-PF party and the election commission over the July 30 ballot -- Zimbabwe's first election since the ousting of Robert Mugabe last year.
"There is a massive cover-up. There has been a massive doctoring of evidence," Thabani Mpofu, representing the MDC, told the court.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe's former ally, won the election with 50.8% of the vote -- just enough to meet the 50% threshold needed to avoid a run-off against MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3%.
"There were at least 16 polling stations with identical results -- identical results for Chamisa, identical results for Mnangagwa. It is like a kid who was playing with the figures," said Mpofu.
He argued that irregularities wiped out the narrow margin by which Mnangagwa had avoided a second-round vote.
"A run-off is unavoidable. For now, the election must be set aside," Mpofu said, adding that "we have a false ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission). We have a lying ZEC."
Thembinkosi Magwaliba, representing Mnangagwa, dismissed claims that the opposition had produced any evidence of fraud.
"This application was not seriously done. The applicant is clearly flippant," he said.
"In the final analysis it is correct to submit that the allegations... have not been established."
Nine judges, led by Chief Justice Luke Malaba, are hearing the case in Harare, where the court premises were given high security.
In a first for the country, the proceedings were broadcast live on state television.
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 than previous votes, but the election was marred by the army opening fire on protesters, killing six, allegations of vote-rigging and a crackdown on opposition activists.
Senior ZANU-PF legal representative Patrick Chinamasa ridiculed the MDC's legal bid.
"Just as you cannot give life to a dead horse, even the best lawyers in the world cannot give life to a hopeless case," he said in a statement before the court opened.
"To those who voted for Chamisa, I ask you to gracefully accept defeat so that the country can move on."
The MDC has cited a catalogue of discrepancies including incorrect counting, fake "ghost" polling stations, and at some polling stations more ballots being counted than there were registered voters.
Derek Matyszak, a legal expert at the University of Zimbabwe, said 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 is pretty predictable," Matyszak told AFP. "There is absolutely no chance of the election results being overturned.
"The judiciary (is) perceived to be partisan. Once the ruling is made, Chamisa will accuse it of bias and try to make political capital out of it."
The MDC's appeal, which was lodged hours before the deadline on August 10, has already forced Mnangagwa's inauguration -- planned for August 12 -- to be postponed.
The court is expected to issue its ruling on Friday.
International monitors largely praised the conduct of the election itself, although EU observers said that Mnangagwa, a former long-time Mugabe ally, benefited from an "un-level playing field".
The court could declare a winner, call another election, or order a run-off or recount. The inauguration should take place within 48 hours of the court's ruling, according to the constitution.