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Five days on from Zimbabwe's election, the troubled southern African country
Five days on from Zimbabwe's election, the troubled southern African country and its millions of exiles are still waiting to find out whether the incumbent leader will cling on to power or admit defeat.

International media has been speculating as to how the situation will develop, with South African sources saying Robert Mugabe, 84, has privately agreed to concede defeat, and ruling ZANU-PF party sources being quoted as saying he will "ensure victory" at an election runoff.

Mugabe, who has ruled the once prosperous nation since its independence from Britain 28 years ago, faced his toughest election challenge yet, as voter frustration boiled over amid mass poverty, food shortages, plummeting life expectancy, and the virtually worthless national currency.

Although the Electoral Commission announced parliamentary election results, giving a majority to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), no indication has been given as to the results of the more important presidential vote.

While previous elections saw campaigns of mass intimidation by security forces, with frequent beatings and murders of opposition activists, Saturday's vote passed relatively peacefully with voters turning out in droves, queuing at polling stations from early in the morning.

The manner of the election, which gave presidential challenger Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party their first chance to campaign in rural areas, has prompted many to believe that Mugabe has finally lost his grip on the police and army, and that he would be unable to push through another election victory with the tide of public opinion against him.

Although Mugabe has not appeared in public since the election, Harare's state-run Herald newspaper, his traditional mouthpiece, said earlier this week there is likely to be an election runoff.

The ageing leader's conspicuous absence has sparked rumors in the Zimbabwean media that he has fled the country.

Zimbabwe's meltdown began in 2000 with the government's campaign of forced land redistribution, heavily favoring Mugabe's cronies. After thousands of white farmers were evicted, mismanagement and corruption set in, and vast swathes of formerly productive farmland were left unused.

Among the country's many problems are sky-high inflation, at over 100,000%, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has brought life expectancy down to 34. With 80% unemployment, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have crossed the border to South Africa, many illegally, in search of work.

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reported that the British government, which Mugabe blames for his country's economic misery, is planning a $1 bln-a-year 'rescue package' aimed at rebuilding Zimbabwe's crippled economy and restoring basic services.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "The rehabilitation will be on a scale not seen by almost any country for a long time."

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu told reporters in Cape Town on Wednesday he hoped Mugabe would "step down with dignity."

"He did a fantastic job, and it's such a great shame, because he had a wonderful legacy. If he had stepped down 10 or so years ago he would be held in very, very high regard," he said.

The MDC party says Tsvangirai has won 50.3% of the presidential vote to Mugabe's 43.8%, citing a collated count of results posted outside each polling station. Former ZANU-PF loyalist Simba Makoni reportedly garnered around 8%.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga called the announcement "irresponsible" and warned that that a premature victory claim could provoke the authorities and the army.

The official parliamentary results gave MDC 99 seats in the 210-seat legislature, and 97 to ZANU-PF.


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