Zimbabwe opposition disputes official poll results

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent of the vote in Zimbabwe's presidential elections, elections officials said Friday — not enough to avoid a runoff against President Robert Mugabe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change challenged the results, saying the Electoral Commission ignored its objections and concerns about the vote count.

"We have been overruled. We are in dispute. It is not fair," Chris Mbanga, the polling agent for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, told The Associated Press.

The Electoral Commission on Friday released the long-delayed results from Zimbabwe's March 29 presidential vote, saying Mugabe won 43.2 percent of votes to Tsvangirai's 47.9 percent, requiring a second-round vote.

"No candidate has received a majority of votes counted. A second election will be held at a date to be announced," the commission said in a statement.

Tsvangirai — who has maintained that he won the presidency with more than 50 percent of the vote — said previously that he will not participate in any runoff. Even before the results were announced, his party challenged the process, citing 120,000 unaccounted votes that could prove Tsvangirai won outright.

"We just said to the electoral commission we're not moving forward until we understand where these 120,000 votes came from," Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe said hours before the results were released.

He said the party — which says its tabulations show Tsvangirai won with 50.3 percent of the vote — anticipated needing another three or four days to examine the results presented to the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF as part of the verification process.

Independent observers had said earlier that Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

The opposition has accused longtime leader Mugabe of deliberately delaying the release of the results to buy time to intimidate voters. Rights groups said postelection violence in Zimbabwe has made it unlikely a runoff could be free and fair.

Mugabe — who has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980 — has been accused of brutality and increasing autocracy.

But the main campaign issue for many here had been the economic collapse of what had once been a regional breadbasket.

Mugabe has pledged to accept the verdict of any runoff vote and called on the opposition to do the same, Senegalese officials said. Senegal's foreign minister was in Zimbabwe this week to help mediate the country's growing political crisis, meeting with Mugabe for two hours Thursday.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said the Constitution requires a second round no sooner than 21 days from the announcement of the results.