Zimbabwe was on tenterhooks Monday evening as electoral authorities continued to compile results of Saturday's national elections at a snail's pace amid rising frustration, skepticism and concern as to the integrity of the counting and electoral process.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation of presidential candidate opposition Morgan Tsvangirai asserted that it had achieved landslide victory over the ruling ZANU-PF party and its leader of 28 years, President Robert Mugabe.
Those claims were comforted late Monday when the Zimbabwe Election Support Network issued its own projections showing Tsvangirai with 49.4% of the presidential vote, Mugabe with 41.8% and independent Simba Makoni with 8.2%. An obscure fourth presidential candidate, Langton Towungana, had a 0.6% share.
ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa explained his organization's findings to reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.
But the ZEC in releasing another batch of results late Monday had ZANU-PF and the Tsvangirai MDC formation more or less neck-and-neck in parliamentary standings with ZANU-PF claiming 31 seats, the Tsvangirai opposition formation taking 30 and the MDC grouping of Arthur Mutambara coming up with five house seats.
But at that point the ZEC had counted fewer than a third of the 210 house races.
The opposition and others in civil society expressed concern that the commission was dragging its feet in issuing results because the numbers would not be good news for President Mugabe and the ruling party, and that the alleged stalling would give the government and ZANU-PF time to rig the final outcome.
By late Monday, more than 48 hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Saturday, the commission had released the results of house races in 66 out of 210 constituencies, showing ZANU-PF with 31 seats, Tsvangirai's MDC formation with 30, and the rival MDC grouping led by Arthur Mutambara with 5 parliamentary seats.
At an earlier stage in the process, Correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the scene at the Harare International Conference Center where ZEC officials were tallying votes and slowly announcing results.
Tsvangirai's opposition formation said it would reject the outcome of the elections if President Mugabe were designated the winner. Its own initial projections showed Tsvangirai with 58% compared with 37% for Mr. Mugabe and 5% for Makoni.
Concerned parties in Zimbabwe and abroad urged the electoral commission to speed up the release of results and, as a U.S. official put it, "do the right thing."
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai’s MDC grouping told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that ZEC is being pressured to rig the ballot.
ZANU-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira declined to address the opposition claims to have scored a major victory, or to speculate on the outcome.
In Washington, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey appealed for calm and urged the ZEC to conduct an honest and accurate count of votes.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the voices of Zimbabwean voters must be heard with no further delay. He said Prime Minister Gordon Brown would be on the phone to Southern African leaders, among others, to express British concern.
A spokesman for the European Commission said it would be “opportune” for the electoral commission to publish final election results as soon as possible to demonstrate its independence and avoid unnecessary speculation.
The German government appealed to authorities in Zimbabwe to ensure vote counting was concluded speedily, transparently and properly.