Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party has lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since taking power in 1980, according to final results reported early Thursday by the country's state media.

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Tendai Biti, secretary general of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, addresses a news conference in Harare on Wednesday. Biti said his party had won the presidency, but was waiting for official results. ((Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press))

The official Herald newspaper reported around midnight that Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party won 97 of the 210 seats in the House of Assembly, while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won 99 seats. A breakaway MDC faction won 10 seats and an independent candidate won one. Results of three byelections aren't available.

Neither party has enough seats to claim an absolute majority in the parliament.

The opposition has claimed victory for leader Morgan Tsvangirai not only in the assembly, but also in Saturday's presidential vote.

An official tally has not been released for the presidential election, though the state-controlled newspaper has predicted a runoff, seen as an admission that Mugabe had not won re-election.

"Keep in mind this is a country where the bulk of the power rests with the president's office, with Robert Mugabe. Those are still the numbers we are waiting for," the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported from Harare, the capital.

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Zimbabweans read a newsletter distributed by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) updating its supporters on the latest election results in Harare on Wednesday. ((Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images))

"This is a critical moment to say that the ruling party has lost its majority in parliament."

The MDC released its own unofficial results of the presidential vote Wednesday, claiming victory for its leader Morgan Tsvangirai at 50.3 per cent, with Mugabe at 43.8 per cent. ZANU-PF has rejected the opposition claim, saying it's waiting for official results from the commission.

If no leader takes more than 50 per cent plus one vote, the parties have agreed to hold a runoff, as required in Zimbabwe.

U.S. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said in a statement Wednesday that Washington is monitoring the situation and expects "the will of the people of Zimbabwe to be respected."

Suggestion of regime change

"This matter of the state-run newspaper talking of a possible runoff is really rather remarkable," said Arsenault.

"For it to even contemplate printing anything that suggests anything other than a Mugabe win suggests a number of things," including the possibility that the newspaper is preparing for a regime change, she said.

MDC general secretary Tendai Biti said Wednesday that the unofficial presidential results, which give just 43.8 per cent of the vote to Mugabe, would rule out the legal requirement for a runoff.

"It's just the delaying of the inevitable," Biti told a news conference, adding that the party would be willing to participate in a runoff if necessary.

"We maintain that we have won the presidential election outright without the need for a runoff."

The outcome of the weekend elections remains speculative until the commission announces full official results for the presidential race. It was not clear when the results would be announced.

The possibility of a runoff, which would be held three weeks from now, was met by frustration from Zimbabweans who questioned how fair such an election would be without foreign election monitors and journalists in the country.

"The international observers will be out and they can play around with intimidation and at the same time with vote rigging," one unidentified opposition supporter told CBC.

Delay arouses suspicion

The delay in results has created an atmosphere rife with speculation and anxiety over who will be the south African country's future leader, prompting concerns it may be a sign of vote rigging and fraud. On Zimbabwe's fourth day without full results, new suggestions emerged that the commission might be buying time for closed-door negotiations between the parties.

"Diplomats will tell you privately here that there is a suggestion that there is some sort of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring. Obviously something is happening behind the scenes, because there is no logical explanation for why the results would take this long," Arsenault said.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai denied Tuesday his party was in talks with Mugabe's party regarding a possible power transfer, dismissing such suggestions as rumours.

"Any speculation about deals, about negotiations, about reaching out, it's not there," Tsvangirai said during a news conference, insisting his party will not enter into any deals before official election results are released.

"We want to know who has won what before we can claim anything," he said.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga also said there would be no negotiations until the results were announced.

The election has presented Mugabe, 84, the country's leader since it gained independence from Britain in 1980, with the toughest political challenge to his decades of rule.

Once praised for bringing health care and education to millions in Zimbabwe, Mugabe has lately been criticized for the economic collapse of his country that has spawned annual inflation above 100,000 per cent and unemployment of 80 per cent.

Food and fuel shortages are rampant, and the rising HIV/AIDS epidemic is said to be causing a steep decline in life expectancy.

With files from the Associated Press