By Cris Chinaka
HARARE (Reuters) - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai willbeat President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's crucial election,but be forced into a runoff vote in three weeks, according to aruling party projection.
Two ZANU-PF party sources said on Tuesday the projectionshowed Tsvangirai falling short of the 51 percent needed foroutright victory. It was similar to projections by anindependent monitoring group.
A spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Changedenied a New York Times report that Mugabe's advisers werenegotiating his resignation with the MDC because Mugabeconsidered the prospect of a runoff demeaning.
"I can confirm that there are no talks with Mugabe," saidMDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa when asked about the story on theNew York Times Web site.
Mugabe, in power for 28 years, faced his most formidablechallenge in the election, with both Tsvangirai and thirdcandidate Simba Makoni, a former finance minister, accusing himof reducing the population to misery.
The opposition and international observers said Mugaberigged the last presidential election in 2002. But someanalysts say the groundswell of discontent over an economy infreefall is too great for him to fix the result this timewithout risking major unrest.
Zimbabweans are suffering the world's highest inflation ofmore than 100,000 percent, food and fuel shortages, and anHIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep decline inlife expectancy.
NO PRESIDENTIAL RESULTS
No official results have yet emerged on Saturday'spresidential poll. The opposition charges that the delay veilsattempts by Mugabe to hang on to power by rigging the vote.
Official results on Tuesday showed ZANU-PF with a narrowlead of two seats in the parliamentary poll with 131 out of 210constituencies declared. But a breakaway opposition party tookanother five seats.
A third government minister lost his seat and resultsshowed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)making some inroads into Mugabe's traditional ruralstrongholds.
The MDC said Tsvangirai had won 95 percent of ruralconstituencies where the results were known.
Two senior government sources who asked not to be namedsaid their projections showed Tsvangirai getting 48.3 percent,against Mugabe's 43 percent, with Makoni taking eight percent.
"What this means is that we are looking at a re-run becausehe did not win with a margin of over 51 percent that would havegiven him the job straight away," one of the sources said.
A projection by the independent Zimbabwe Election SupportNetwork (ZESN) had Tsvangirai taking 49.4 percent and Mugabe41.8 percent with Makoni on 8.2.
The opposition is expected to unite behind one candidate ifthere is a runoff, which would be held three weeks after lastSaturday's election.
A senior Western diplomat told Reuters a re-run was likely.
"We can all speculate about what they (ZANU-PF) did or didnot do. But when you look at some of the projections by otherobservers, such as ZESN, they are pointing to a re-run," hesaid.
Electoral authorities said they were still collating andverifying returns.
"It is now clear that there is something fishy. The wholething is suspicious and totally unacceptable," MDC spokesmanNelson Chamisa said.
Seven European countries and the United States called onZimbabwe's Electoral Commission to quickly release the results.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday called fortheir immediate publication, saying the democratic rights ofZimbabweans must be upheld.
"The eyes of the world ... will be upon Zimbabwe so thatthe doubts that people have and the questions people have canbe answered," Brown said.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Banya, MacDonald Dzirutwe,Stella Mapenzauswa and Muchena Zigomo; Writing by Barry Moody;Editing by Matthew Tostevin)