First Zimbabwe recount goes to Mugabe

The first result in a recount of 23 seats in Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections gave victory to president Robert Mugabe's ruling party today.

The recount in a Harare suburb was the only one demanded by the opposition MDC party.

The results showed just a one-vote difference from the original count from the poll giving the seat to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party with 6,194 votes to 5,931 for the MDC.

No further results from the recount were released. Most of the other seats involved were won by the MDC and the recount could prove pivotal for the ruling party which lost control of parliament for the first time by a small margin.

Presidential results from the March 29 election - which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is widely believed to have won - have still to be released.

Meanwhile the state mouthpiece Herald newspaper raised the first prospect of a "unity government", seen as preparing the ground for Mugabe to stay in control and perhaps even the scrapping of the March presidential election ahead of a new ballot.

Columnist Obediah Mazombwe called a unity government negotiated by regional leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community as "the most viable and safest way forward."

He said regional leaders, along with "the progressive international community," could bring together key players: Mugabe's party, the opposition, Britain and the United States.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is dire, but all is not lost. Whilst the ruling party must stop behaving like a wounded buffalo, the opposition must stop its hysterics and lapses into delusion," he said.

"The West, particularly the Anglo-American establishment, should stop insisting that President Mugabe and ZANU-PF cannot be part of a future prosperous Zimbabwe," he said.

Under a transitional arrangement, the resumption of critical Western financial assistance could be negotiated, Mazombwe said.

Mr Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders, now in "virtual exile," should be guaranteed their safety and "come home and start playing a constructive national role."

A unity government would then be expected to reform the nation's constitution and organise fresh elections under regional and international supervision, he said.

Mr Tsvangirai's insists the MDC won the polls outright and has rejected earlier calls by independent civic groups for an alliance with Mugabe to break the month-long political deadlock.

Mr Tsvangirai today met Mozambican ex-President Joaquim Chissano and opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama as part of his tour of the continent to rally support among African leaders and increase pressure on Mugabe to concede defeat.

South African President Thabo Mbeki - appointed by regional leaders as the chief mediator on Zimbabwe - has come under increasing criticism for his refusal to take a stronger stance on Mugabe.