Zambia elections on 20 September
Lusaka - Zambian President Rupiah Banda on Thursday set elections for September 20, hoping a humming economy will help him win his first full term in office against an opposition whose alliance has already cracked.
"I have been informed by the Electoral Commission of Zambia that the logistics for holding elections are now in place. The final voter register is also in place," he said in a live address on national radio.
Banda, 74, will seek his first full term at the polls, after he took power in a special election three years ago to complete the term of Levy Mwanawasa, who died while in office.
The main opposition parties had formed an alliance to challenge Banda, but their coalition has already crumbled over disputes about who would top their united ticket.
That dealt a major blow to Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata, who came close to winning the 2008 elections, taking 39% of the vote to Banda's 41%.
"We have been ready for election from as early as yesterday. We are ready for him as we have always said," said 74-year-old Sata, known as "King Cobra" for his stinging rhetoric.
"He has bowed down to our pressure to announce the election date, and now that he has announced he should start counting his days in State House," Sata told AFP.
Opposition parties have been pressing Banda to announce the elections date, claiming that his continued use of state vehicles and media before announcing new polls was tantamount to abuse of state finances.
Ready to challenge
Sata's party had teamed up with the smaller United Party for National Development (UPND) to run a united ticket in the campaign. But their coalition quickly fell apart when the parties failed to agree who would top the ballot.
Despite the break-up, UPND spokesperson Charles Kakoma told AFP the party was ready to challenge Banda.
"Let them now stop using state resources, and we want free and fair campaigns. I am certain that Banda now knows that his time is up. We are ready for him,'" Kakoma said.
Although Zambia is among the world's poorest countries, the economy has grown steadily in recent years, with growth at 7.5% last year - a showing that Banda has claimed credit for.
Africa's biggest copper producer, Zambia has benefited from strong commodities prices and a surge in foreign investment to open new mines and expand existing ones.
Last year copper exports hit a four-decade peak of about 750 000 tons. The government aims to more than double that figure to two million tonnes by 2015.
Banda actively courted Chinese and Indian investors to help Zambia weather the global economic slump, but the growing Asian presence has become a political hot potato.
Two Chinese mine bosses were cleared in April of charges they fired guns into a crowd of protesting workers, a case in which Sata championed the workers while Banda urged Zambians not to stoke tensions with the Chinese.
Banda also faced protests after the acquittal of former president Frederick Chiluba on graft charges, when Banda disbanded the corruption busters who had brought the case to trial.
The move sparked accusations that Banda was seeking to bury the case.