The European Union and Germany pushed for a swift resolution to the state of limbo surrounding Zimbabwe's presidential elections. No official results have been released almost two days after polling booths closed.
The main opposition MDC party claims the results, when released, will give them victory
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has claimed victory in the elections on Saturday, March 29, expressed alarm at the slow pace of counting Monday as results trickling in showing President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the MDC neck and neck.
The European Union, Germany and Britain echoed calls for the government to issue the results without delay while New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark called the long wait "a worry."
A speedy announcement was necessary "to demonstrate the Zimbabwe Election Commission's independence and to avoid unnecessary speculation," a spokesman for the EU's development and humanitarian aid commission said. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband reminded Mugabe "the international community is watching events closely."
Germany voiced satisfaction at the peaceful course of the Zimbabwe elections -- the country held combined presidential, parliamentary and local elections at the weekend -- but expressed concern at the slow pace of vote counting. The delays could raise questions about manipulation, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Germany monitors elections "with great concern"
Berlin appealed to those responsible in Zimbabwe to ensure the vote counting is concluded speedily, transparently and in a proper manner.
"The federal government is monitoring the situation with great concern," the spokesman added.
Zimbabweans voted on Saturday and still have no results
Arnold Vaatz, the vice chairman of the Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) faction in the German parliament, expressed his party's concern, saying, "More than 30 hours after the voting booths were closed, the national electoral committee in Zimbabwe still cannot reveal to the world even partial results."
The European Union is quietly fearful that any indication or suspicion of a tampered election could lead to the kind of violence witnessed earlier this year in Kenya being repeated on the streets of Harare and beyond.
With 66 of 210 assembly seats counted, both the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Zanu-PF had taken 35 seats each, the Zimbabwe Election Commission announced in Harare. No results have been announced in the presidential vote, in which Mugabe is battling to secure another five years in power.
The close race suggested by the official results contrasted with the MDC's own unofficial vote count, which it said showed the party taking 96 out of 128 constituencies from which it had results.
Opposition suspects election rigging by Mugabe
Mugabe is accused of fixing the vote to retain power
The discrepancy, the snail's pace at which the results were being issued and the neat 50-50 split in each batch of votes released have fuelled suspicions in MDC ranks of attempts to "cook" the result in 84-year-old Mugabe's favor.
MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told a press conference in Harare that he would not be surprised if vote rigging was still taking place.
"We're standing by for street action," said Eddie Cross, an MP for the MDC who retained his seat in Bulawayo.
The pace of the count, which ZEC has put down to logistical issues and a need to "verify" the votes, has also caused consternation among local and international observers.
"It's too slow," Noel Kututwa of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) election watchdog told the dpa news agency. "We're very concerned with the speed."
Reports of irregularities, intimidation leak out
On Sunday, the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) gave the elections a qualified thumbs-up, describing them as "peaceful" and "credible" before the count was over and despite the objections of two South African observers.
The observers did, however, express concern over a number of irregularities, including the presence of police in polling stations during voting.
On Monday, three members of the Youth League of South Africa's ruling African National Congress returned home early complaining of harassment by the feared CIO or secret service.
MDC leader Tsvangirai wants to avoid a repeat of 2002
Fearing a repeat of the 2002 presidential elections, in which Mugabe defeated Tsvangirai by 400,000 votes after large-scale voter intimidation and some evidence of rigging, the MDC rushed to unilaterally claim victory Sunday.
"We have won this election," Biti declared, hours after the close of polls. Tsvangirai, 56, has not been seen in public since the polls.
In remarks carried in the state-controlled Sunday Mail, government spokesman George Charamba warned the MDC's unilateral victory claim was tantamount to a coup d'etat. "And we all know how coups are handled," he added.
MDC claims Harare success
Provisional results posted on polling station doors had shown the MDC and Tsvangirai sweeping Harare and showing strongly in some rural areas that were once ruling party strongholds. The party also topped the poll in the second-largest city Bulawayo.
The MDC said Monday it had taken photos of the results as proof.
Ex-Finance Minister Simba Makoni, 58, who was ejected from Zanu-PF for standing against Mugabe, appeared to be running a distant third.
The streets of Harare were gripped by an uneasy calm Monday as riot police patrolled the streets and residents remained mostly in their neighborhoods.
Saturday's largely peaceful elections were seen mainly as a vote on the economic chaos wrought by Mugabe's populist policies, which have resulted in six-figure inflation and widespread food, fuel and drug shortages.
Among the early casualties in Zanu-PF was Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who was defeated in his rural eastern constituency.
Mugabe, who declared himself confident to add another five years to his 28 years in power, has vowed to respect the wishes of Zimbabweans but also said recently the MDC would "never" govern.