Run-off on the cards in Zim

HARARE - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will beat President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's crucial election, but will be forced into a runoff vote in three weeks, according to a ruling party projection.

HARARE - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will beat President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's crucial election, but will be forced into a runoff vote in three weeks, according to a ruling party projection.

Two Zanu-PF party sources said yesterday the projection showed Tsvangirai falling short of the 51percent needed for outright victory. It was similar to projections by an independent monitoring group.

No official results have yet emerged for Saturday's presidential poll. The opposition charges that the delay veils attempts by Mugabe to hang on to power by rigging the vote.

Mugabe, in power for 28 years, faced his most formidable challenge in the election, with both Tsvangirai and third candidate Simba Makoni, a former finance minister, accusing him of reducing the population to misery by wrecking Zimbabwe's economy.

Official results yesterday showed Zanu-PF with a narrow lead of two seats in the parliamentary poll, with 131 out of 210 constituencies declared. But a breakaway opposition party took another five seats.

A third government minister lost his seat and results showed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) making some inroads into Mugabe's traditional rural strongholds.

Two senior government sources, who asked not to be named, said their projections showed Tsvangirai getting 48,3percent against Mugabe's 43 percent, with Makoni taking 8percent.

"What this means is that we are looking at a rerun because he did not win with a margin of more than 51percent that would have given him the job straight away," one of the sources said.

A projection by the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) had Tsvangirai taking 49,4percent and Mugabe 41,8percent with Makoni on 8,2.

The opposition is expected to unite behind one candidate if there is a runoff, which would be held three weeks after last Saturday's election.

A senior Western diplomat told Reuters a rerun was likely.

"We can all speculate about what they (Zanu-PF) did or did not do," he said.

"But when you look at some of the projections by other observers, such as ZESN, they are pointing to a rerun."

The MDC said the unprecedented delay in issuing presidential results indicated that Mugabe was trying to stave off defeat by fraud. Electoral authorities said they were still collating and verifying returns. - Reuters

X