September 15, 2011

Polls put Sata in State House

Opinion polls put Zambian opposition Patriotic Front (PF) president Michael Sata in State House in Lusaka with 54% of the vote after the next general elections to be held on 20 September 2011. They also project an absolute PF majority of 87 in Zambia's 158-member parliament (150 MPs are directly elected from single-seat constituencies, eight are appointed).

The polls, conducted by 20 Zambian academics under retired Copperbelt University manager John Chishimba, supported by Canadian Bradford University, projects that 74-year-old Sata will take 55% of the popular vote, ousting sitting president Rupiah Banda (74). They project Banda's Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) will lose more than half its parliamentary seats to secure just 34. They anticipate the balance of presidential votes and 22 parliamentary seats will go to Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND).

These results would be sweet revenge for Sata, who lost to Banda by just over 30.000 votes (2%) in snap 2008 presidential elections, called following the death of President Levy Mwanawasa. Banda had been Mwanawasa's deputy president. Sata continues to maintain that electoral fraud robbed him of victory in 2008. He is also still smarting from the 2001 decision by MMD founder, President Frederick Chiluba, to anoint Mwanawasa as his successor – a move that prompted his resignation from MMD to launch the PF. At the time Sata was Minister without Portfolio and MMD national organising secretary.
Sata is a career politician, having joined Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party (UNIP) during Zambia's independence struggle, and working his way up party structures to become governor (effectively executive mayor) of Lusaka in 1985. In 1991 he left UNIP to back Chiluba. MMD colleagues describe him as "increasingly abrasive" – a characteristic that has added spice to his increasingly confrontational relationship with Banda.

Last year he attempted to block Banda's bid for a second term in court using legislation introduced by Chiluba to limit presidential office to the offspring of Zambian-born parents. Banda was able to prove Zambian paternity. A key factor will be the size of the turnout: 2008 produced only a 30% poll. A low turnout works for MMD and could be enough to keep Banda in State House, although MMD's well-funded but staid campaign makes this unlikely.

Another factor will be UPND's performance. A PF-UPND electoral pact signed in 2008 broke down last year for reasons that included UPND's demand for a more equal arrangement based on its view of significantly increased UPND support. In an electorate in which a significant majority is under 35, Hichilema's age (48) and the populist rhetoric he has inherited from Sata could conceivably see him pick up sufficient support to split the opposition vote to the benefit of the MMD. Here too the level of voter turnout will be crucial.

Another factor will be the influence of Zambia's ex-presidents and political aristocracy: Kaunda and his politician sons are with the PF, while Chiluba, the country's first president in multi-party elections, switched back to Banda from the PF earlier this year. (Southern Africa Report)

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