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Protests Continue After Zambia Vote

As the president wins reelection, riots persist for a second day and opposition candidates demand that the ballot results be verified.

October 03, 2006|Jeff Kapembwa and Robyn Dixon | Special to The Times

LUSAKA, Zambia — Opposition leaders cried foul and anti-government protesters rioted for a second day Monday as Zambia's president won five more years in power.

After a hard-fought campaign among five candidates, President Levy Mwanawasa, head of the long-ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy, was reelected with 43% of the vote. His main rival, Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front, received 29.3%.

Under Zambia's system, the top vote-getter wins outright even without receiving more than 50%.

Sata said the election was stolen, and several other opposition parties complained of irregularities in Thursday's balloting and called for the results to be verified.

Soldiers were deployed Monday in parts of Lusaka, the capital, and police clashed with opposition supporters, as they had Sunday. Dozens were arrested in the two days of rioting.

"Once Mwanawasa is declared the winner, I will congratulate him for successfully stealing the vote," Sata said before the final result was announced Monday night. "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 parliament."

Parliamentary results released Monday evening also showed that Mwanawasa's party, which has ruled Zambia for 15 years, won 70 of the 150 seats, followed by the Patriotic Front with 36 seats.

Hakainda Hichilema of the United Democratic Alliance, who came in third with 25%, also complained to the Electoral Commission of irregularities.

But Sata and some other candidates suggested there was no point in taking a complaint to the courts, where past electoral challenges have failed.

A group of local nongovernmental organizations that observed the voting, led by the Foundation for Democratic Process, said that in some areas the number of ballots counted was higher than the number of registered voters. They supported calls for results to be verified.

But international observers saw an improvement over the vote five years ago, which was widely criticized for irregularities.

"The indications are that these elections, in almost all aspects, represented a significant improvement on the 2001 polls. We observed a number of deficiencies in the wider democratic process, which would need to be redressed in order to further strengthen and deepen the democratic culture in Zambia," said the chairman of the Commonwealth observer mission, Paul Berenger. He said there was a lack of transparency in campaign funding, giving the ruling party an advantage.

A European Union mission said the election preparations were largely professional and transparent.

For many voters in Zambia, one of Africa's poorest and least developed countries, the big issues were jobs, education and health.

The country's social infrastructure is in a shambles after years of austerity measures set by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as conditions for debt relief.

Zambia's external debts were forgiven by the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations last year, but the benefits have yet to trickle down to the poor in a nation where half the working population is unemployed.

Anger over the election results was sharpest in the slum areas where Sata had strong support.

"President Mwanawasa is desperate to remain in power and used the state machinery to manipulate the elections in his favor. Sooner or later, Zambians will be proven right that they rejected him but he forced his way back into office," said one Sata supporter, Albina Musonda, an unemployed primary school teacher from the John Laing district of Lusaka, a poor neighborhood.

"I don't think the results are a true reflection of how people voted," said Sata supporter Barnabas Chalwe, 35, a repairman from Lilanda, another poor area. "I voted for Sata and so did many Zambians. I am convinced that President Levy Mwanawasa lost the vote but the Electoral Commission of Zambia wants to favor him."

John Zembo, 84, a security guard from Lusaka, supported Mwanawasa because of his handling of the economy.

"I voted for President Mwanawasa because during the past five years he's shown a commitment to changing the economy," he said.

"I think the real fruits of his actions can't be seen now, but a lot of things are changing for the better."


Times staff writer Dixon reported from Johannesburg, South Africa, and special correspondent Kapembwa from Lusaka.

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