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Zambia Swears In New Leader

Africa: Chosen by the outgoing president, Levy Mwanawasa takes office after court rejects rivals' bid for a delay amid allegations of vote rigging.

January 03, 2002|ANN M. SIMMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zambia's ruling party candidate, handpicked by the outgoing leader, was sworn in as president Wednesday amid allegations of vote rigging and mounting political tension.

Pledging to defend Zambia's constitution, Levy Mwanawasa, 53, was inaugurated after a high court rejected an appeal by opposition candidates to delay the ceremony until allegations of voting irregularities were investigated.

The court ruling followed a day of violence and looting in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, as thousands of opposition supporters took their dissatisfaction to the streets and clashed with police.

In his inaugural address, Mwanawasa, once vice president to outgoing President Frederick Chiluba, said he would not tolerate further unrest in the typically peaceful nation in southern Africa.

"I will defend the constitution and assure the vote is applied," he said as 1,000 police officers patrolled the area around the inauguration ceremony in the capital.

As some local and foreign election monitors pointed to flaws in the balloting, analysts said the controversy surrounding the run-up to the vote and the results had taken a serious swipe at Zambia's fragile democracy.

"We could now see a questioning of the legitimacy of the government and a stagnation to the country's democratic gains," said Ngande Mwanajiti, chairman of Coalition 2001, a grouping of independent local election monitors. He spoke by phone from Lusaka.

An unprecedented 11 candidates competed Dec. 27 for the nation's top job. Chiluba, who had ruled Zambia for the last decade, chose Mwanawasa as the candidate for the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy. His chief opponent was Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development.

With all but two of 150 voting districts--with 15,000 votes--left to report by late Wednesday, Zambia's election commission said Mwanawasa led Mazoka by 34,777 votes.

But several opposition parties have joined forces to challenge the results, citing allegations of ballot-box stuffing and other government shenanigans. The opponents have 14 days to file a petition contesting the results. But observers said the procedure was more likely to be a formality than to yield change.

"It's kind of hard to undo an election once it's done," said one Western official based in the Zambian capital.

In Washington, the State Department urged the opposition groups to be more specific in their allegations of vote rigging.

Supporters of Mazoka are calling for a rematch between him and Mwanawasa, but analysts said that is highly unlikely.

Opposition parties claim that the electoral process had also been rigged to benefit the ruling party, with Mwanawasa enjoying the use of state resources to campaign and the government-controlled media blatantly endorsing him.

"You can never say there was a level playing field," said Frederick Mudenda, a political observer and law school lecturer at the University of Zambia at Lusaka.

Voters also cast ballots in parliamentary and local elections. The tally in these polls was incomplete, but analysts said the large number of parties competing for seats in parliament could lead to Zambia's first coalition government.

Mwanawasa "should look at the option of forming a government of national unity to calm down the situation and maybe hold early elections," said Robby Makayi, a special assistant to Mazoka. "It is obvious that a power-sharing system should come into place now so we can heal the wounds and put the nation back together."

The new president has promised to reintroduce state subsidies for agriculture, boost employment, bolster education and address widespread poverty. More than 80% of Zambia's 9 million people live below the poverty line of $1 a day, according to U.N. statistics.

Mwanawasa has pledged to root out corruption, for which Chiluba's government was widely criticized. Chiluba dismissed Mwanawasa from the government in 1994 after Mwanawasa accused him of violating human rights and condoning graft. Mwanawasa has vowed that no one will be allowed to get away with plundering state resources.

"There is talk of a clean-slate approach," the Western official said. "Mwanawasa's contacts with the party are fairly distanced enough from the baddies of the most recent administration that he may be able to get a fresh start on things."

An uneasy calm returned to Lusaka late Wednesday, with only sporadic reports of violence, but street patrols continued.

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