Ballots are still being counted in Mozambique's general election, but early returns broadcast on state radio show ruling party candidate Armando Guebuza leading his main rival.  Opposition contender Afonso Dhlakama says few votes have been counted in his strongholds, and he believes he will emerge victorious.  One of the main international observers, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, told a small group of reporters that the two days of voting appear to have been "almost perfect." 

President Carter gave preliminary approval to the way voting was conducted, despite concerns over the low voter turnout.  President Carter said he and his observers questioned the party polling agents, especially from opposition groups, at every polling station they visited.

"We have found that they had no complaint or problem with the conduct of the election itself," said Mr. Carter.  "So all I can judge so far is what we've seen in the first two days, and I would say that it's almost perfect, in terms of a meticulous compliance with the rules and regulations and laws, and we have had adequate access."

President Carter said his teams of observers filed 585 reports on what they saw at polling stations around the country.  Of those, he said, only two dealt with irregularities that the observers felt were serious enough to invalidate the results.  Mr. Carter said he does not know what the incidents were, but he hopes to have more information on Saturday.

Later, the Carter Center announced that the National Electoral Commission has agreed to allow observers full access to regional and national vote tabulation centers.  That deal ends a long-running standoff between observer groups, especially the European Union, and the commission, which previously had declined to allow the counting to be monitored.

President Carter said observers need to witness that final tally because they can only report on what they actually see.

"If we are not given that right, then the observers, domestic or international, cannot certify that the entire process was free and fair," said Mr. Carter.

State radio and television were reporting that very early election returns have given a wide lead to ruling FRELIMO party candidate Armando Guebuza.  But the opposition party, RENAMO, has warned against interpreting those results to mean that Mr. Guebuza is winning.

RENAMO campaign manager Eduardo Namburete told reporters that the opposition party is still confident of victory, and accused state radio of bias.

"So, this is misleading information that the state-owned [broadcaster] is bringing out, trying to give the impression that the ruling party's candidate is the virtual president of Mozambiqe.  It is not true," said Mr. Namburete.

RENAMO is a former rebel group that waged a 16-year civil war against the FRELIMO-led government, before becoming a political party as part of a 1992 peace deal.  Mr. Dhlakama has run for president twice before, and lost only narrowly to President Joaquim Chissano in 1999, in an election that RENAMO maintains was stolen.

The RENAMO campaign manager, Mr. Namburete, re-stated his party's vow to accept results of a free and fair poll, but he also said that RENAMO believes there have been enough irregularities to call that into question.

"If RENAMO loses and FRELIMO wins, the only thing that we care about is that the elections were free and fair, and we will accept the elections, and we will continue our task as opposition," said Mr. Namburete.  "The only thing I cannot answer you is if the ruling party wins and then it is proved that the elections were not fair and free.  So then, I cannot answer you what's going to happen."

Voter turnout appears to have been extremely low around the country, and it is not clear how that factor will affect the results.  Many polling stations were all but deserted on the second day of voting Thursday.  But Mr. Namburete of RENAMO called reports of a low turnout "misleading" because he believes more voters went to the polls in opposition-dominated regions. 

President Carter said he has not yet seen final turnout figures from around the country, but his experience in the capital region alone indicated that turnout was roughly half of what it was in the last election five years ago.