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Official Count Gives Zimbabwe Opposition Parliamentary Majority; Presidency In Play

Final results issued late Wednesday by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission four days after Saturday's presidential and general elections in the country gave the two wings of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change a majority in parliament, ousting President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

Zimbabwe's presidency remained in contention with the MDC formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai claiming that Tsvangirai polled 50.3% of ballots cast while the government and ZANU-PF officials challenged the assertion and said a runoff will be needed.

The runoff scenario was given prominence by the state-controlled Herald newspaper, which said neither candidate had won the necessary 50% plus one vote.

Tsvangirai's MDC formation took 99 of a total of 210 house seats, short of a majority, but the rival MDC grouping led by Arthur Mutambara captured 10 seats for a total of 109 in combined opposition hands, compared with 97 seats taken by ZANU-PF (one locked in before the election as the ruling party candidate was unopposed).

Independent Jonathan Moyo, a former information minister, holds a seat, and three seats will be contested in by-elections due to deaths of candidates on the ballot.

Tsvangirai asserted Tuesday evening that he had won the presidency. The claim was repeated in a Wednesday news conference by his secretary general, Tendai Biti.

Reporter Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare.

The MDC assertions drew differing responses from government officials.

Mugabe spokesman George Charamba, also a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, threatened unspecified action against the MDC leadership, charging that they had violated the law in making public unofficial election results.

But Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that ZANU-PF, not the government, should address the MDC claims.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi agreed with Ndlovu, but said the opposition’s claim of victory and talk of a runoff were both premature.

While the post-election Tsvangirai MDC seemed to be riding high on Wednesday, one prominent analyst said the party should prepare itself for a rerun of the presidential election by forging alliances with other opposition groupings.

Independent analyst Brian Kagoro, based in Nairobi but in Harare on Wednesday, told reporter Patience Rusere that Mr. Mugabe will pull out all stops to stay in power.

Seven ministers in Mr. Mugabe's cabinet, which he formally dissolved on Friday before the elections, lost their seats with other prominent ruling party figures.

Ministers displaced in parliament by the opposition included Patrick Chinamasa, the former justice minister, Chen Chimutengwende, former minister of interactive affairs, Amos Midzi, ex-minister of mines, Mike Nyambuya, the former energy minister, Chris Mushowe, who held the transport portfolio, Joseph Made, a former agriculture minister most recently in charge of farm mechanization, and Oppah Muchinguri, minister of gender affairs until being defeated in Saturday's house elections.

Political analyst Joy Mabhenge said the losses by five cabinet members in former ZANU-PF strongholds in rural areas signaled a major power shift.

As the electoral commission completed its count, opposition officials said most of the official results matched their own compilations, with a few notable exceptions.

Elections Director Dennis Murira of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the party plans to contest the outcome in constituencies including Bindura North, Mazowe South and Kambuzuma, among others.

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