News24

Zambia awaits results after voting

2011-09-21 08:56

Lusaka - Scattered violence in impoverished areas of Zambia's capital marred but did not derail general elections in this copper-rich southern African country.

First results were expected late on Wednesday after 12 hours of voting ended at 18:00 on Tuesday.

Rupiah Banda seeks a new term of office after completing the term of his predecessor Levy Mwanawasa. Some analysts said Banda, who had been Mwanawasa's vice president, benefited from voter sympathy when he won by just 35 000 votes following Mwanawasa's sudden death.

During that 2008 special election, Zambia's economy was in trouble. Now, the country is benefiting from rising world copper prices. The boom has helped create 100 000 jobs in Zambia and the government has built bridges, airports and hospitals with revenue from copper.

While Banda is taking credit for the strong economy, the race is still expected to be close. Ten candidates are on the presidential ballot, but only Banda and Michael Sata - who has lost three previous presidential votes, including in 2008 - are considered contenders. Zambia's five million voters also are choosing 150 members of parliament and more than 1 000 municipal councillors.

Sata is known for his populist rhetoric and attacks on China's hefty investment in Zambia.

Polling was generally smooth. But police spokesperson Ndandula Siamana said that in one Lusaka neighbourhood, voters claimed they saw a man with pre-marked ballot papers. Siamana said a crowd burned the papers, as well as a truck and a small bar.

Malicious damage

Police later arrested five people on charges of malicious damage, and said the ballot papers burned were legitimate and had not been tampered with.

In a second incident in Lusaka, Siamana said voters angered because a polling station opened late threw rocks and set fire to five vehicles, among them a police car. Siamana said voting later took place at the station.

No injuries or arrests were reported in either incident.

Elsewhere, the mood was upbeat at crowded polling stations.

"I'm happy I've voted," said Elizabeth Piri. "I hope my vote will be significant to democracy in Zambia."

Banda has presented a four-year infrastructure development programme that began this year. He pledges to repair, rebuild or upgrade more than 67 000km of roads. He's already built more than 100 bridges and 27 hospitals.

Sata's campaign has at times appeared desperate. His party had gone to court to try to have Banda disqualified, arguing he was ineligible for re-election because both his parents were allegedly born outside the country.

Extra patrols

A judge dismissed the petition on technical grounds. Banda, 74, was born before Zambia gained independence in 1964.

Sata and his party then turned to the South African company that printed the ballot papers, claiming it is corrupt and should not have been given the contract. Both the company and the Electoral Commission of Zambia have denied the charges.

The populist Sata has in the past focused on the massive Chinese investment here. But he has toned down his anti-Chinese rhetoric in this campaign.

There's some anxiety in Zambia about the aftermath of the vote. Sata's supporters have rioted after previous losses, and the violence following recent elections elsewhere in Africa is on some minds here.

National Police Chief Francis Kabonde has ordered extra patrols in volatile areas, and banned street vendors from selling liquor and implements such as shovels and axes that could be used as weapons.