For the first time in Zimbabwe's history, an election recount is taking place. The recounting of votes for 23 seats in the country's legislature began on Saturday, with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and most legal analysts calling it illegal. Peta Thornycroft reports for the VOA from Harare.

The recount was called by the ruling ZANU-PF party after it narrowly lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence following elections on March 29.

According to the country's election law, a recount is only possible if a complaint is filed within 48 hours after the votes are tabulated.

In this case, Judge George Chiwese, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, agreed with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF last week that there would be a recount in 23 constituencies. Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, who failed to win a seat in the elections, said the initial vote count was inaccurate and that made a recount necessary.

The original counting and verification in the legislative races took place in front of ZANU-PF and MDC polling agents and were published on April 3.

ZANU-PF needs to win nine more legislative seats in the recount to regain a majority.

The deputy director for MDC elections, Donald Chirunga, says the recount is illegal. He says though that the MDC had no choice but to comply and so has sent polling agents to the constituencies to make sure that seals on the ballot boxes were still in tact.

He said he is concerned that ballots could have been tampered with since the boxes were sealed 19 days ago when results were first announced.

ZANU-PF did lodge an objection in one constituency in North West Zimbabwe within 48 hours after the original vote count and a recount was completed. The result was unchanged.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission says results may be available on Monday.

In the March 29 elections, candidates were running for president, parliament, senate and local government. A total of 2.5 million votes were cast, and results were posted outside polling stations by April 1. The legislative results were made public two days later, but the presidential results have still not been announced.

The MDC has gone to court several times to stop the legislative recount and also to force the publication of results from the presidential election, which the MDC's candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, claims he won.

Zimbabwe's electoral laws were amended in January after 10 months of negotiations between ZANU-PF and the MDC, facilitated by South African president Thabo Mbeki on behalf of SADC.

The electoral act says there can be no recounting of the presidential vote after it is announced. The MDC says Saturday's recount is not only about reversing ZANU-PF's parliamentary majority, but about finding more votes for Mr Mugabe who independent pollsters say was thoroughly beaten by Mr Tsvangirai on March 29.