Zambia counts votes

2011-09-21 12:24
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Zambia votes

Michael Sata was elected as the new Zambian President and took office from Rupiah Banda. The elections were marred by reports of violence in impoverished areas of the country during the elections.

Lusaka - Election officials in Zambia tallied ballots on Wednesday, a day after a tumultuous vote that saw angry residents riot in poor neighbourhoods around the capital, Lusaka.

No official results had been announced by late Wednesday morning in the presidential, parliamentary and local polls, which pit pro-business President Rupiah Banda and the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) against fiery nationalist Michael Sata of the main opposition Patriotic Front (PF).

Local media reported results from various constituencies around the country, but it was too early to piece together a national picture of whether Zambians had chosen to keep the MMD in power after 20 years or heed Sata's call for change.

Counting was supposed to begin immediately after polling stations closed at 18:00 (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday, but voting hours in many areas had to be extended after stations opened late, in some cases because of undelivered ballot papers.

Police and election officials blamed frustration with the delays for the riots that broke out in several neighbourhoods around Lusaka.

Crowds of mainly young people burned tyres in the streets, smashed cars belonging to election officials, set buses alight, and threw stones at police who tried to charge the mob from their vehicles.

In Kanyama, near central Lusaka, opposition supporters mobbed a truck delivering election materials and seized the ballot papers it was carrying, accusing the poll workers delivering them of trying to stuff ballot boxes.

Angry youths set fires in the road, lobbed rocks at police and broke into sporadic chants of "We want change! We want change!" for several hours after the incident.

Alleged fraud

Police said five people had been arrested in the neighbourhood.

But international observers and election officials said on the whole the vote had gone smoothly.

"Overall, we think Zambians were given an opportunity to cast a vote and choose the leader they prefer. On the whole, voting went on well," Electoral Commission of Zambia spokesperson Chris Akufuna told AFP.

He called the violence "very, very unfortunate", but added: "It was more isolated cases. At one polling station, yes, we had problems because the materials were actually destroyed, caused by the delay in taking voting materials there. But... voting in other centres went well," he told AFP.

The head of the EU's monitoring mission said the unrest was "isolated" and had not undermined the overall integrity of the vote.

Sata is making his fourth bid for president, after losing to Banda by just two percentage points in a 2008 special election to fill the remainder of late president Levy Mwanawasa's term.

He alleged fraud following that race, and his supporters rioted for days after.

The opposition leader again accused his rivals of trying to steal the vote Tuesday, saying he had received reports of unsealed ballot boxes and ballots without serial numbers.

Observers said they had not received any such reports.

The electoral commission had initially promised to announce final results within 48 hours, but Akufuna said the disruptions, together with a one-day postponement in three remote polling stations that did not receive their ballot papers, could cause a delay.

Read more on:    michael sata  |  rupiah banda  |  zambia  |  southern africa  |  zambia elections

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