Last pitch for votes ahead of Zambian elections

The main contenders in Zambia’s general election made a final pitch for support on Wednesday with President Levy Mwanawasa urging voters to reject the “fantasy” of his populist challenger Michael Sata.

On the eve of the ballot, the state of the economy continued to dominate debate with Sata accusing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) leader Mwanawasa of turning Zambia into the poor relation of Southern Africa.

While there have been few reliable opinion polls during the course of the campaign, Sata is believed to have been slowly chipping away at Mwanawasa’s initial lead and has been attracting tens of thousands to his rallies.

In an interview with Zambia’s Phoenix radio, Patriotic Front leader Sata returned to familiar territory by attacking Mwanawasa’s record over the last five years.

“Zambia used to be a great country—today we are flocking to Zimbabwe to buy margarine, to Malawi to buy diesel,” he said.

“Our boys who pass school have no jobs. Our doctors who are qualified have no jobs. Nurses who are qualified have no jobs.”

Mwanawasa has admitted that he has only “scratched the surface” of the myriad problems facing Zambia, one of Africa’s poorest country’s with two-thirds of its populations living on less than $1 a day.

The 59-year-old, due to stage a final rally appearance in Lusaka later in the day, has been portraying himself as a safe pair of hands and ridiculed Sata’s promise of “lower taxes, more jobs and more money in your pockets”.

“For the past five years, I have been working carefully not to promise what I and the MMD government could not deliver,” Mwanawasa wrote in adverts published in the country’s newspapers on Wednesday.

“It has been my goal to inspire your confidence in Zambia through solid economic performance rather than mere words.

“I say to all Zambians: Turn away from hatred, false promises and fantasy.”

Mwanawasa can point to a 4,9% rise in GDP in 2005, helped in large part by an increase in copper production from 337 000 tonnes at a time when international prices have more than doubled.

He has also managed to keep inflation in single digits, in contrast to neighbouring Zimbabwe, where it recently hit a world record 1 200%.

But while Mwanawasa may have brought a degree of stability, he has failed to overhaul living standards in a country where GDP per head of the population is $596 per year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

His staid style, not helped by a recent stroke, is in stark contrast to that of Sata, who has managed to electrify crowds at rallies.

Sata insists he has no bitterness towards Mwanawasa after his detention for several weeks on suspicions of corruption in 2003.

Charges never materialised.

However, exchanges between the two have been increasingly bitter, with Mwanawasa likening Sata’s threats to hammer foreign companies with stakes in the country’s mines to the late Ugandan leader Idi Amin’s purge of foreigners.

In his radio interview, Sata turned the attack round by assailing the state of the health service.

“Levy Mwanawasa is killing children without providing drugs.
If you do not provide drugs in hospitals you are killing people, you are worse than Idi Amin,” he said.

While Mwanawasa and Sata are seen as the main contenders, Hakainde Hichilema, a 44-year-old political novice with a background in accountancy, has steadily built up support by portraying himself as a sound economic manager.

Two other candidates, Ken Ngondo of the Old People’s Congress and Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage party, are expected to muster about 3% each.

The presidential vote takes place on the same day as parliamentary and municipal elections.—Sapa-AFP

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