Zimbabwe's tortuous electoral process lurched into another phase on Friday as the much-maligned Zimbabwe Electoral Commission cut short what it called a "verification" of presidential election results by candidates in the March 29 ballot and their agents, announcing the first-round results and calling for a presidential runoff election.

Opposition representatives present for the "verification" process expressed outrage and stalked out of the proceedings at the Harare International Conference Center, the focus of attention during immediate post-election vote tallies which stretched out for weeks leading to the sudden unveiling of presidential results this week.

The electoral commission said opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had outpolled President Robert Mugabe with 47.9% of ballots compared with 43.2%, declaring that Tsvangirai had nonetheless failed to surmount the hurdle of 50% plus one vote required to lock up the presidency in the first round, requiring a second.

Tsvangirai?s representatives in the so-called ?verification? exercise protested that they had not been allowed to challenge any of the commission's compilations. His party contends that he took at least 50.3% of first-round presidential votes.

Movement for Democratic Change Secretary General Tendai Biti told reporters Friday that the party would decide over the weekend whether to contest the run-off. 

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters it was "pretty hard to see how there can be a meaningful run-off...when the government has done everything it could to both delay and obscure the results."

A British Foreign Office official told Reuters: "Without an immediate end to violence and the introduction of a wider range of international monitors and in much greater numbers than were present for the first, no second round could be free and fair."

Tsvangirai MDC formation spokesman Nelson Chamisa of told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the party rejected the results, calling the electoral commission's refusal to explain and defend its figures "scandalous."

Political analyst Glen Mpani of the University of Cape Town told VOA reporter Peter Clottey that the opposition finds itself in a difficult position, as refusal to contest the runoff could hand victory to Mr. Mugabe by default - but maintained that popular resentment at post-election violence could enable it to prevail in a runoff.

More news from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...