Zimbabwe's ruling party was in turmoil Wednesday, debating its next step amid reports that final results would show President Robert Mugabe had failed to win reelection and faced another round of balloting.
But the results also posed a dilemma for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who, according to the results, did not win an outright victory. He has repeatedly ruled out a second round, maintaining that he won the first, but could hand victory to Mugabe if he doesn't run again.
According to final results reached by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which are still subject to a verification process in coming days, Tsvangirai received 47% of the vote to Mugabe's 43% in the March 29 election, with other candidates taking the rest of the ballots. Zimbabwean law requires that a candidate win 50% of the ballots plus one to avoid a runoff.
The results were provided by sources in Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals for leaking information to a foreign journalist.
Many ruling party figures now doubt Mugabe, who at 84 presides over a collapsing economy and an annual inflation rate of more than 165,000%, can win a second round, despite a campaign of violence by his followers against opposition activists.
But the opposition faces an obvious disadvantage in a second round after its activists were forced to flee violence in rural areas, ruling out a proper campaign in those places.
Tsvangirai also has suggested that his safety could be at risk if he returns to Zimbabwe from neighboring South Africa, where he is now.
U.S. and British officials also have raised concerns that violence in recent weeks against opposition activists and supporters has made holding a second round too difficult and dangerous.
Nonetheless, ruling party figures were morose Wednesday after the news that a recount failed to show any improvement in Mugabe's tally from earlier unofficial figures. Many of them had hoped that the long delay in releasing presidential results might be a sign that Mugabe would do better in the final tally.
Over the weekend, the electoral commission announced that a recount had confirmed that Mugabe's party had lost control of parliament for the first time since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980.
In a sign that regime hard-liners may be preparing the ground for further wrangles over parliamentary and presidential results, the Herald newspaper, widely seen as a state mouthpiece, reported Wednesday that more than 100 cases of electoral fraud had been found and that more were being discovered daily.
Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, a Mugabe ally, said police would leave no stone unturned to expose "this cancerous treachery."
Although some ruling party followers have said they would be willing to accept a government of national unity, others have expressed determination to cling to power should the president lose a second-round vote. Some ruling party figures fear that hard-liners might carry out a coup to prevent the opposition from taking power.
"The issue of a rerun is a very sensitive one," said a senior ruling party figure Wednesday, after confirming the presidential results. "If [Mugabe] loses, it's the start of a long story. If the ruling party loses, it will mean a lot of things will start happening.
"The issue of the army becomes very real, the issue of the army taking over the government," he said. "It's what everybody is fearing will happen. People are not very comfortable with it. It's going to be a big issue."
The ruling party figure said many Zimbabweans who lived through the 1970s war of liberation did not want to see another conflict.
"We don't want war," he said. "War is the last thing we want in this country. People are trying to be as cool as possible."
While Tsvangirai has embarked on an intense international diplomatic tour to try to put pressure on Mugabe, there is little evidence that he has gained any support at home among top generals and security apparatchiks, whose support he would need to govern. Ruling party figures said many were convinced that he would sack all the generals on taking office.
Chihuri, the police commissioner, meanwhile, pledged Wednesday to prevent further postelection violence, hinting the opposition was to blame. "The old trick of claiming human rights violations when somebody steps on your toe yet you yourself are poking other people's eyes will not work this time around," he said.
The failed efforts of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change to persuade the United Nations to send an envoy to investigate postelection violence boosted hopes in ZANU-PF that it retains the support of its southern African neighbors. On Tuesday, South Africa helped block U.N. Security Council action on Zimbabwe.
In a front-page headline Wednesday, the Herald called it a U.N. snub of Tsvangirai's party.