African News

Zambia: Mwanawasa retains presidency amid protests

3 October 2006 at 20:23 | 426 views

Presidential incumbent Levy Mwanawasa(photo)is to be sworn in today, Tuesday after winning a second and final term in office with 42 percent of the vote, with his nearest rival conceding defeat and calling for an end to election protests.

Clashes between security forces and supporters of presidential candidate Michael Sata rocked several Zambian towns on Sunday amid allegations of wide-scale fraud after Sata’s initial clear lead in the first two days of the vote count waned.

Final results by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) gave Sata 29 percent with Hakainde Hichilema, head of the three-party United Democratic Alliance, in third place on 25 percent of the 2.52 million votes cast.

Troops and police were deployed in the capital, Lusaka, after opposition supporters rampaged through at least five townships, while protests also erupted in the Northern and Copperbelt provinces, both strongholds of Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) party. Shops were looted, cars were torched and police used teargas to quell the violence. There were no reports of fatalities, but businesses stayed shut on Monday.

In a state television address on Sunday night, Mwanawasa, leader of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), accused the opposition of being behind the violence and warned that "the law enforcement agencies will deal - and deal firmly - with all those who are fomenting trouble".

Sata also appealed for calm and conceded to reporters that his bid for the presidency was probably lost. "Once Mwanawasa is declared the winner, I will congratulate him for successfully stealing the vote."

"I am not going to petition [the supreme court] because I have no time to waste in court," he told reporters. "I will go back to the people and thank them for their support, but I will put up a big battle inside parliament and outside."

Mwanawasa, a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner, had scraped into power by a single percentage point with just 29 percent of the vote in the 2001 elections. The opposition immediately contested the result in the Supreme Court, but after a prolonged trial the judiciary ruled in favour of his party.

Local election observers cited a number of flaws in Thursday’s election, but their international counterparts endorsed the poll as the most transparent since multiparty elections were introduced in 1991, after 27 years of one-party rule.

"Although this year’s tripartite elections met most of the benchmarks for a credible and acceptable election, there are a number of critical areas ... We have serious reservations in the area of results," said Samuel Mulafulafu, president of the Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP), an election monitoring group.

Three constituencies in Lusaka recorded deficits of up to 30,000 votes in the presidential ballot, compared to the number of votes cast in the parliamentary contest, while in the Southern Province’s Namwala district a police officer and four electoral officers are being investigated after they were found removing the results from sealed presidential ballot boxes. A constituency in the Eastern Province town of Petauke reported 10,000 votes more than the total number of registered voters in the area.

Lee Habasonda, executive director of the regional good governance watchdog, the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), called on the ECZ to verify the process in the affected constituencies before announcing the winner.

According to Mninwa Mahlangu, leader of the team of observers sent by the African Union, "Our general impression is that the elections were conducted in a transparent, free and fair manner, and people were able to express their will without any fear or intimidation."

Hichilema, whose UDA won all Southern Province parliamentary seats but one by overwhelming margins, called for a rerun of the presidential election. "These anomalies need to be expeditiously dealt with before the winner is declared. We are seeing the exact mirror of the 2001 elections ... and the only solution is to go for a presidential rerun."

ECZ chair, Ireen Mambilima, a former High Court judge appointed by Mwanawasa to head the electoral commission in 2002, confirmed receiving written submissions from the two opposition leaders but declined to endorse a rerun or countrywide verification exercise.

"At the moment, my ruling on this issue is that we shall deal with specific cases and constituencies instead of going for a countrywide verification exercise," she said.

"Over the missing votes, we are still trying to establish what could have exactly happened. Maybe some people voted in the parliamentary and local government contests but shunned the presidential one [even though electoral officers were giving out three ballot papers and ensuring each voter cast them correctly]."

The election was held under new voting laws specifically aimed at reducing electoral tensions, including the introduction of transparent ballot boxes to allay fears of vote-rigging, using voters’ fingerprints on their registration cards to prevent fraud, and banning the media from announcing the results before the official declaration by the ECZ.

"The banning of the media from announcing the results has only served to give the ruling party ample time to rig the elections, because of the unnecessary delays by ECZ to announce the results," alleged PF director of research, Chileshe Mulenga.

Mambilima attributed the delays to political parties. "We would have finished announcing by now, but PF stakeholders raised concerns that the computers could have been pre-fed with figures that would favour the ruling party to win. We are now relying solely on transcripts of the declared results in each constituency and some of these places are very far away - it is difficult to access or communicate with them."

Early results gave Sata a commanding lead after he scooped all the urban parliamentary seats in the Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces and it appeared that he would become Zambia’s third democratically elected president since 1991.

Sata, also known as ’King Cobra’, a cabinet minister in the governments of both founding president Kenneth Kaunda and his successor, Frederick Chiluba, pushed a populist campaign message to the legions of urban poor, promising to reverse the country’s fortunes within three months. Two-thirds of Zambia’s population live on less than a dollar a day.

Demonstrating PF supporters chanted that "They stole [Anderson] Mazoka’s victory in 2001 but we won’t let it happen to PF this time," a reference to Mazoka’s loss to Mwanawasa by one percent in the previous presidential election. Mazoka died in May this year.

A Lusaka-based political analyst, who declined to be identified, said the violence occurred in areas "that have outrightly rejected Mwanawasa ... The only problem is that such people are failing to reason that, while they don’t appreciate Mwanawasa’s policies, others perhaps have seen them working and have, therefore, given him another five-year mandate."

Zambian police inspector general Ephraim Mateyo said "a number of arrests had been made" and hinted that the protests could have been a case of "sour grapes by some disgruntled politicians".

Mwanawasa has pursued pro-market economic reforms, including wage caps that have angered labour, but which last year finally won Zambia cancellation of its foreign debts. The government has insisted it will spend its additional income prudently, while the opposition called for more radical poverty alleviation programmes.

Source: IRIN.