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Zimbabwe Opposition Hangs Fire On Participation In Presidential Runoff

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change is playing its cards close to its vest as to whether Tsvangirai will contest the presidential runoff election the MDC says there should be no need to hold, while trying to secure commitments from the African Union and United Nations for election monitoring.

The Associated Press quoted Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe on Monday as saying that Tsvangirai had made up his mind on the question but would not make his decision public until the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which said Friday that a runoff would have to be held, has set a date for the controversial second round.

Meanwhile, Secretary General Tendai Biti of Tsvangirai's MDC formation insisted in an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai won the March 29 election outright, so there is no need to hold a runoff.

Tsvangirai and the MDC are under heavy pressure to take part in the runoff despite mounting violence against opposition supporters, especially in rural areas, and much controversy over how the electoral commission handled the presidential count.

The Southern African Development Community’s committee on politics, defense and security put out a statement Sunday urging all political parties to accept the results the electoral commission issued last week and to participate in the runoff.

But Tsvangirai's MDC formation, having asked the regional grouping to oversee a full verification of the electoral commission's results, has thrown up its hands at SADC and is asking the African Union and the United Nations to help resolve the crisis.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping was in Harare on Monday for talks with President Robert Mugabe and electoral commission officials, sources said.

Those sources said Ping and his delegation were seeking assurances that the runoff election will be free and fair, and demanding an end to the political violence.

Political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the AU efforts are commendable but he does not see Mr. Mugabe compromising and adds that the country is ill-prepared for a run-off ballot.

The independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, meanwhile, urged authorities to respect the country's Electoral Act and hold the run-off within 21 days from the date the electoral commission announced the results of the first presidential round. That would mean holding the runoff on or about Saturday, May 24.

The monitoring group expressed concerns about the electoral commission’s process compiling the results, which showed Tsvangirai with 47.9% of votes thus 2.1 points short of an outright victory, while Mr. Mugabe took 43.2 percent.

ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he found it curious that in comparison with his group’s projections issued immediately following the election, ZEC’s count for Mr. Mugabe was at the top end of the margin of error of ZESN's projections, while Tsvangirai’s final tally was at the bottom end of the margin of error calculated by the independent group.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...