Zambia opposition to challenge election result

Zambia’s opposition Patriotic Front will launch a court challenge on Tuesday to demand a vote recount after centrist politician Rupiah Banda was sworn in as president on Sunday after a disputed poll.

Defeated opposition leader Michael Sata has branded the election to find a successor to the late President Levy Mwanawasa a fraud. Mwanawasa died from a stroke in August, two years into his second five-year presidential term.

”They are still preparing certain documents and they will be filing them tomorrow,” said Given Lubinda, spokesperson for Sata’s Patriotic Front said on Monday.

The court petition will ask for a recount and the verification of all ballots cast in the election, he said.

Zambia has been one of the most politically stable nations in Africa. However, a prolonged election dispute could unsettle investors at a time when Africa’s largest copper producer is feeling the pinch from the global financial crisis.

Banda — acting president after Mwanawasa’s death — won 40% of the 1,79-million votes cast on Thursday versus 38% for Sata, according to final results released by Zambia’s electoral commission. A third candidate took the bulk of the remaining votes.

The margin of victory was 35 209 votes.

Sata, who says the poll was marked by discrepancies between vote tallies and the number of voters on registration lists, led through two days of counting before Banda overtook him in results late on Saturday.

The opposition leader, who finds strong support among workers and the poor, alleged fraud in 2006 when he lost the presidential election to Mwanawasa. He has been more strident this time, saying he will not accept Banda’s victory.

The country’s biggest monitoring group, the Foundation for Democratic Process, will release an election report on Monday.

Banda has vowed to press the policies of Mwanawasa, who was praised by investors and donors for conservative fiscal policies that helped fuel a boom in the mineral-rich Southern African nation where growth has averaged 5% a year since 2002.

”The scope for significant change in policy was always going to be limited. Recent years have also seen a move to the centre by the different players in Zambian politics,” said Razia Khan, head for regional research for Africa at Standard Chartered. – Reuters

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