Zambia opposition to contest Banda election

Rupiah Banda, a pro-business centrist, was sworn in as Zambia’s president on Sunday after a narrow election win, but the main opposition party said it would challenge the result in court.

Banda’s victory, if allowed to stand, will be welcomed by foreign lenders and investors, who praise his government’s conservative fiscal policies. Zambia’s economy has grown an average 5% per year since 2002, buoyed by a mining boom.

He had campaigned as the heir to late president Levy Mwanawasa, who died from a stroke in August, and pledged to make no dramatic policy changes if elected in Thursday’s poll.

Opposition leader Michael Sata also promised to pursue a pro-growth agenda but concerns lingered about the strident anti-investment tone of his last campaign for the presidency in 2006.

”I think Banda is the right choice because he has a high level of maturity and good credentials for economic management,” said Oliver Saasa, an economist and political commentator based in the capital, Lusaka.

Banda will face pressure to do more to reduce poverty and improve government services, especially in rural areas that have failed to benefit from the economic boom, Saasa said.

Banda won 40% of the 1,79-million votes cast versus 38% for Sata, the leader of the Patriotic Front, according to final results released by Zambia’s electoral commission. A third candidate took the bulk of remaining votes.

The margin of victory was 35 209 votes.

Sata and the Front branded the election a fraud and said it would contest the result.

”Our stand is still that we do not recognise the election of Rupiah Banda as something reflecting the will of the people of Zambia,” said Front spokesperson Given Lubinda. ”We are going to ask the court to grant an order to scrutinise and recount the votes.”

Banda, who was named acting president shortly after Mwanawasa’s death, took the oath of office at a hastily arranged ceremony in Lusaka. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among those in attendance. — Reuters

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