Old rivals meet again as Zambians elect president

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 19, 2011 7:54 AM
Old rivals meet again as Zambians elect president

Since Zambia's president won a narrow victory over his main rival three years ago, 100,000 jobs have been created and the government has built bridges, airports and hospitals with revenue from a copper boom.

That puts President Rupiah Banda in a strong position ahead of Tuesday's presidential elections. His main opponent Michael Sata has lost three times previously.

Ten candidates are on the presidential ballot, but only Banda and Sata are considered contenders. Zambia's 5 million voters also will be choosing 150 members of parliament and more than 1,000 municipal councilors.

In 2008, when copper prices were lower and concerns about the economy high, then-vice president Banda won a special by-election held after the death of President Levy Mwanawasa, who had suffered a massive stroke. Banda beat Sata by just 35,000 votes.

Banda has presented a four-year infrastructure development program that began this year. He pledges to repair, rebuild or upgrade more than 67,000 kilometers (more than 41,000 miles) of roads. He's already built more than 100 bridges and 27 hospitals.

"The new roads are here, the schools are here," said Banda supporter Moses Phiri.

Referring to Sata supporters, Phiri added: "What more do these people want?"

Banda also has been spending plenty on voters _ handing out lollipops for children and T-shirts, caps, floppy hats and flags for their parents. He's traveled the campaign trail on a luxury bus.

Sata's campaign has at times appeared desperate. His party had gone to court to try to have Banda disqualified, arguing he was ineligible for re-election because both his parents were allegedly born outside the country.

A judge dismissed the petition on technical grounds last week. Banda, 74, was born before Zambia gained independence in 1964.

Sata and his party then turned to the South African company that printed the ballot papers, claiming it is corrupt and should not have been given the contract. Both the company and the Electoral Commission of Zambia have denied the charges.

The populist Sata has in the past focused on the massive Chinese investment here. But he has toned down his anti-Chinese rhetoric in this campaign.

There's some anxiety in Zambia about the aftermath of the vote. Sata's supporters have rioted after previous losses. And while this campaign has been relatively peaceful, violence following recent elections elsewhere in Africa is on some minds here.

National Police Chief Francis Kabonde has ordered extra patrols in volatiles area, and banned street vendors from selling liquor and implements such as shovels and axes that could be used as weapons.

In an address to the nation Sunday, Banda warned those who might be planning violence: "Expect no mercy, expect no favor, expect only the full force of the law to come down on you."