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Zimbabwean President Mugabe's Party Weighs Runoff Ballot Risks

Zimbabwe's highest office remained in the balance late Thursday, five days after polls closed following presidential, general and local elections, with pressure intensifying on President Robert Mugabe to concede defeat to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai but factions of Mugabe's own party urging the 84-year-old to force a runoff.

Results of house elections Wednesday gave the combined opposition Movement for Democratic Change a four-seat majority in parliament, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission late Thursday started eking out results for the senate.

Given the slow pace at which the commission has processed results it seemed unlikely that the presidential outcome would be officially announced in the next 24 hours.

Tsvangirai's opposition formation said on Wednesday that he took 50.3 percent of the vote to take him over the 50%-plus-one hurdle for election. But the government has challenged this assertion, contending that a presidential runoff will be necessary.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a civic organization, projected earlier in the week that Tsvangirai had taken a 49.4% share of the vote, Mr. Mugabe trailed with 41.8%, independent Simba Makoni took 8.2% and Langton Towungana 0.6%.

While the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission labored away Thursday, attention shifted to the contending claims by the opposition and ZANU-PF and to speculation whether the aging president, having failed to receive a new mandate, would insist on a runoff.

Mr. Mugabe on Thursday made his first public appearance since the election, meeting with election observers from the Southern African Development Community.

It was unclear whether Mr. Mugabe was as eager as his party to take part in a runoff as political observers think many voters who cast ballots for Makoni in the first round would gravitate to Tsvangirai, sending his share of the ballot towards 60%.

The ZANU-PF politburo was scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss the question of a runoff. Party administration secretary Didymus Mutasa, minister of state security in the cabinet dissolved last Friday before the elections, confirmed the schedule meeting and said ZANU-PF brass would conduct an election post-mortem and consider a runoff.

ZANU-PF sources said tension is high inside the party with some openly calling on Mr. Mugabe to step down, saying he cannot hope to win a runoff against Tsvangirai. This was said to be the viewpoint of those aligned with former army commander Solomon Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joyce Mujuru, opposed by a faction headed by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who are urging Mr. Mugabe to press for a runoff.

There was growing international pressure for President Mugabe to spare Zimbabwe a runoff which would invite political violence as divisions deepened.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress said that it expects Harare to accept the election outcome. Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano was said to have arrived in Harare on Thursday to broker talks between the two sides.

Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer John Makumbe told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that Mugabe might listen to advice from Chissano.

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad told reporters Thursday that if Mr Mugabe wanted to live in exile in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur must accept him. Mahathir added that, "if he has lost, he has to accept the decision of the people.”

But Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Mr. Mugabe is not leaving and that he is ready for a runoff. The state-controlled Herald paper has been actively pushing the likelihood of a runoff between Mr. Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

From Pretoria, South Africa, senior analyst Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group told reporter Blessing Zulu that tensions are high within ZANU-PF.

Zimbabwean civic groups, meanwhile, urged regional leaders to press Mr. Mugabe not to go to a runoff. The Save Zimbabwe Campaign sent appeals to South African President Thabo Mbeki, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, now chairman of the Southern African Development Community, and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, current chairman of the African Union, seeking their intercession.

Save Zimbabwe Campaign spokesman Jonah Gokova told reporter Blessing Zulu that the group wants to make sure the country doesn’t slide into violence.

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