The ZESN, which deployed 8,000 local election observers, estimates that Tsvangirai won 49.4 per cent of the votes against 41.8 per cent for Mugabe, the current president.

If those results were confirmed a second round run-off would have to be held to decide the presidency.

Opposition confident

An official in Mugabe's Zanu-PF told the AFP news agency that the president "doesn't want to embarrass himself by going to a run-off".

"There is only one person still blocking him, the army chief of staff," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, reportedly said.

At a news conference late on Tuesday, Tsvangirai said that there were no discussions with Zanu-PF and he was still waiting for official results from the election commission.

However, it was clear that he remained confident about the MDC's chances in the presidential and parliamentary contests.

"After the 29th of March, Zimbabwe will never be the same again. In those minutes inside the polling booths each one rewrote the history of Zimbabwe," he said.

"The vote we passed on Saturday was a vote for change, for a new beginning."

The Associated Press news agency reported that sources close to the two rivals had told them that advisers to Mugabe and Tsvangirai were meeting after the president was told he was trailing far behind the opposition leader.

Mugabe was told there could be an uprising if he were declared the winner, it reported.

Earlier, Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Tsvangirai's party, had told Associated Press that the report was "rubbish".

Contemplating defeat

Slovenia, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, has urged Mugabe to step down.
  
"If Mr Mugabe continues, it will be a coup d'etat," Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia's foreign minister, said after addressing the European Parliament.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since
independence 28 years ago [AFP]
"I hope he is on his way out, most Europeans think this way."

Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, told South African radio on Tuesday that leading members of Mugabe's party were contemplating defeat with trepidation.

"I was talking to some of the big wigs in the ruling party and they also are concerned about the possibility of a change of guard," Khumalo said.

"Zanu-PF has actually been institutionalised in the lives of Zimbabweans, so it is not easy for anyone within the sphere of the ruling party to accept that 'Maybe we might be defeated or might have been defeated."'

Meanwhile, the United States has urged the government to release the election results quickly and respect the people's will.
  
"We want to see the presidential vote count be released as soon as possible," Tom Casey, US state department spokesman, said.

"Delays in that vote counting and delays in the release of the results are troubling, certainly given all the problems that we noted prior to the election."

Slow results

Results have been coming in at a snail's pace from the parliamentary elections, and the MDC has accused the electoral commission of sitting on results in an attempt to fix the outcome.

With results from 131 of Zimbabwe's 210 constituencies announced, the MDC had won 67 parliament seats while Zanu-PF trailed slightly with 64 seats.

Supa Mandiwanzira, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Harare, said that politicians and supporters from both sides appeared to be anxious.

"There is a bit of frustration across the across the board with the results not being announced," he said.

"People are worried, what with the expectation that it could turn violent and people could go out onto the streets.
     

The electoral commission says the delay is due to presidential and parliamentary elections being held at the same time and there being 60 constituencies more than in the last elections in 2005.

But the piecemeal announcement has left observers questioning the transparency of the process.

 
In previous elections, partial results had been announced within hours of the close of voting.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies