Acting Zambia president wins election

Acting President Rupiah Banda on Sunday scored a narrow victory in Zambia’s presidential race over fiery rival Michael Sata, whose supporters have staged protests over alleged vote fraud.

Banda won 40,09% of the vote to Sata’s 38,13%, with nearly 1,8-million ballots cast, said Electoral Commission of Zambia chairperson Florence Mumba.

Voter turnout out was 45%, she added.

Sata had been in the lead in the initial returns, but when Banda overtook him late on Saturday, scores of opposition supporters marched through a crowded Lusaka slum, setting fire to market stalls and throwing stones in the streets, witnesses said.

Riot police fired tear gas at the Patriotic Front (PF) supporters, who quickly dispersed, police spokesperson Benny Kapeso said.

“We intervened quickly and managed to bring the situation to normal,” he said.

Sata won strong support in Lusaka and in copper-mining regions, which host most of Zambia’s jobs, but Banda’s support in rural farming areas boosted him to victory.

Zambia’s security forces were put on high alert earlier this week, after opposition supporters and police scuffled in the tourist town of Livingstone.

Police maintained a strong presence at key points around the capital as the final results were announced.

Banda is expected to be sworn in later on Sunday as Zambia’s fourth head of state, and some regional leaders were expected to attend the inauguration ceremony.

The PF has already said it will not accept the results, launching fresh claims of vote fraud on Saturday and announcing that it would ask a court for a recount.

“The PF will not recognise Mr Banda until the court gives us reason to do so,” party spokesperson Given Lubinda told reporters Saturday.

Sata himself stormed into the Lusaka vote centre earlier on Saturday and accused the ruling party of being “a bunch of thieves”, saying the voter roll had been inflated in Banda’s favour — a charge denied by the election commission.

The African Union and the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) have also brushed aside claims of fraud, saying their observers declared the vote free and fair.

Banda will serve through 2011 to fill out the term of late president Levy Mwanawasa, who died in August after suffering a stroke.

Banda (71) is a Western-educated former diplomat who campaigned on promises to maintain Mwanawasa’s economic policies, which led Zambia through years of sustained growth.

He made his own populist pitch to rural farmers, slashing the price of fertiliser by 75% in the week before the election.

Although Mwanawasa reined in inflation and built up impressive foreign reserves, Zambia remains one of the world’s poorest countries with more than 60% of the population living on less than $2 a day.

Sata, also 71, ran on an anti-poverty campaign promising better jobs and housing.

He had also vowed to force foreign companies to hand 25% stakes to local investors, and is an open admirer of neighbouring Zimbabwe’s controversial President, Robert Mugabe.

Although he has little formal education, Sata is a shrewd political operator who rose to top level government before breaking off to form his own party.

He took several days to concede defeat after losing the last election to Mwanawasa. His supporters rioted for days in protest, but Sata says he never condoned the violence. — AFP

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