October 6, 2006

President Mwanawasa wins elections / Opposition leader plans local challenge

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has won a second term in office in an election his challenger Michael Sata accused him of rigging. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced the final results after Sata conceded defeat but accused Mwanawasa of stealing victory. According to the ECZ chairwoman Ireen Mambilima, Mwanawasa has taken 1,177,846 votes counted or 43 percent. Sata scored 804,748 votes or 29 percent. Wealthy businessman Hakainde Hichilema came third on 693,772 votes, or 25 percent. Mambilima added that some 2.7 million people out of nearly four million registered had voted in the presidential and parliamentary polls. Chief Justice Ernest Sakala immediately declared Mwanawasa the winner and said he would be inaugurated soon for a second and constitutionally final five-year term.

The Commonwealth observer group has released its final report on the elections in which it has maintained that the elections were free and fair. The group has however, expressed misgivings over the process of releasing the results saying these had generated complaints among political parties and civil society. Chairperson of the Commonwealth observer group, Paul Berenger emphasised that the results process was the one area where those efforts did not result in a totally satisfactory level of transparency and credibility. The group was also saddened that the general atmosphere of peace that characterised the campaign and polling stages were marred by violent incidents during the announcement of results. "We believe that taken as a whole, the conditions existed in Zambia for a free expression of will by the electors and that the results reflect the wishes of the people," he said.

In the meantime, defeated presidential candidate Michael Sata of the patriotic Frint (PF) said that his opposition party had emerged from elections with enough power to cut local taxes and review some contracts with foreign investors. In a speech in the capital Lusaka, Sata urged supporters of his party to remain calm in the wake of the riots that erupted when the disputed results were first reported. An early tally had put Sata ahead of Mwanawasa. Conceding that he was bitter about the outcome, Sata told the crowd he would turn his attention to wielding the power his party had won on municipal councils in key provinces of Zambia, including the capital Lusaka and the mineral-rich copper belt.

In a challenge to Mwanawasa and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which won 72 of the 148 parliamentary seats contested in the election, Sata said, "They can run their state government ... but we will run the councils." According to Sata, PF councillors would honour a pledge to cut local taxes, adding that they would exercise their rights to review contracts with businesses that leased shops and offices in Lusaka and in cities throughout the nation. Such a move would largely affect Chinese, Lebanese and Indian investors and some members of the MMD. Under Zambian law, the central government can only dismiss councils for poor performance. Sata also pledged to fight what he termed the "slave wages" being paid to miners in the country's vast copper and cobalt mines and demand amendments to concessions already held by foreign firms. "If we will have to shift the concessions from the exploiters in the Zambian mines, we will do it. We will do it without being ashamed, without blinking," said Sata, who added that his party would take a practical not radical approach.

Shortly before the election, Mwanawasa ordered the arrest and prosecution of copper mining investors violating labour laws but has pledged to restore investor confidence following Sata's pre-election threats to chase Chinese mining investors away. Sata also issued a warning to Mwanawasa's supporters, some of whom had driven through Lusaka in a car carrying a mock-coffin of the opposition leader. "(They) don't need to add more salt to our wounds, our hearts are still bleeding," Sata said. "If they are not careful, they will bring bloodshed to this country."

In the meantime, police have been ignoring appeals for the release of over 100 people facing charges of riotous behaviour in the wake of the elections. Supporters of Michael Sata, leader of the opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party, went on the rampage after it became clear on the second day of counting after the poll on 28 September that his bid for the presidency was lost, and President Levy Mwanawasa would secure a second and final five-year term of office.
Members of Sata's PF appealed for leniency for those arrested for looting and other acts of public disorder in the interests of national unity. "President Mwanawasa himself said he wanted all parties to reconcile and work together for development, but we see no reason why police should continue detaining these people when the situation in the country is back to normal," PF vice-president Sakwiba Sikota said. (Times of Zambia, Ndola / Rts / IRIN)

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