Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai late Tuesday laid to rest persistent media reports of a deal in the making with President Robert Mugabe for a concession of defeat and an orderly transition of power following elections, but made clear that he believes Saturday's presidential and general ballots gave him a mandate to govern.
"Zimbabwe will never be the same," he said, opening a news conference at Harare's Meikles Hotel. "The people have spoken with one voice," Tsvangirai said.
"The vote cast on Saturday was for change and a new beginning. It was a vote for jobs, it was a vote for food, for dignity, for respect, for decency, for equality, for tolerance, for love, and for trust," Tsvangirai continued.
"Our people therefore cannot wait for the execution of that mandate," he said, in an indirect reference to the desultory pace at which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been releasing election results beginning with those of parliamentary contests.
Tsvangirai urged the electoral commission to "proceed with haste" to complete its work of tabulation of results - but announced that his grouping of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change would release its own tallies on Wednesday, compiled based on the results posted outside polling stations across the country.
Tsvangirai indirectly conveyed that he believes he and his party have won the election and intend to take up the reins of power. "Today we face a new challenge," he said, "that of governing, that of rehabilitating our beloved country."
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi provided reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe an account of Tsvangirai's news conference.
Tsvangirai's remarks capped a third day of anxious waiting by Zimbabweans while the electoral commission released the results of house races in small batches. By the end of the day the commission had released the results for 160 of 210 constituencies with 78 seats going to the ruling ZANU-PF party, 77 to Tsvangirai's MDC grouping and five seats credited to the rival MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara.
Correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported earlier from the Harare International Convention center where the count was proceeding.
During the day a number of international news outlets including the New York Times reported that Tsvangirai was in discussions with aides to Mugabe for a deal that would involve Mr. Mugabe's resignation and a handover of power to Tsvangirai. But senior officials of Tsvangirai's MDC formation said no such deal was in the offing.
Responding to a question, Tsvangirai laid the reports to rest. "Let's not be influenced by speculation. There is no discussion...therefore that is just a speculative story."
Tsvangirai said the electoral commission should complete its work, "and then we can discuss the circumstances that will affect the people."
Regional political analyst Peter Kagwanja, director of democracy and governance and head of the Africa division at the Human Science Research Council in Pretoria, voiced skepticism as to the likelihood that Mr. Mugabe would contemplate a deal with his opponent at this stage given all the other options that remain for him.
No official presidential results have been issued yet, but the respected Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which deployed 11,000 observers on Saturday, on Monday released its projections which showed Tsvangirai shy of a needed plurality with 49.4% of the vote, Mr. Mugabe with 41.8%, independent Simba Makoni with 8.2% and an obscure fourth candidate, Langton Towungana, with 0.6% of the vote.
However, ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa noted that the poll had a margin of error of 2.4%, so it was conceivable that Tsvangirai might have topped the 50% mark.
However, Secretary General Tendai Biti of Tsvangirai's MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu that the grouping was ready for a runoff if necessary "to finish the job."
Tsvangirai might enjoy an additional advantage in a runoff: Makoni had the backing of the rival MDC faction, many of whose members might now line up behind Tsvangirai.