28 December 2001

ZAMBIA: Close race on early results

Partial results from Zambia's presidential and parliamentary elections on Thursday indicated a close race, that analysts predicated could lead to the formation of the country's first coalition government.

The results trickled into the capital on Friday at a frustratingly slow pace as administrative and logistical problems continued to dog the Electoral Commission of Zambia.

Voting in many parts of the country started late on Thursday, Dec 27, as the commission battled to deliver ballot material to the over 5,000 polling stations countrywide - some of them cut off by impassable roads and flooding. Polling was scheduled to end on Thursday evening, but continued in some areas on Friday.

However, the few results received by mid-Friday suggested that three of the 11 presidential candidates – Levy Mwanawasa of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development, and Christon Tembo of the Forum for Democracy and Development - were running neck-and-neck.

Political observers said the partial results suggested that it was unlikely that one single party would sweep both the presidential and parliamentary elections.

"The indications are that two or more parties will have to reach some kind of compromise. Coalition governments are not unusual, and it likely that the leading parties will find themselves being forced by necessity into forming one," Alfred Chanda, president of the Forum for a Democratic Process (FODEP), a church-backed NGO that is monitoring the elections, told IRIN.

Chanda said a coalition administration would be good for the country, which has seen only two changes of government since independence from Britain in 1964. The country officially reverted to multiparty politics in 1991 after 27 years of rule under former president Kenneth Kaunda. But for the last decade, both the executive and parliament have been dominated by President Frederick Chiluba and the MMD.

"When one party dominates both the government and the parliament, it is tempted to be dictatorial. A coalition government would be good for checks and balances, and would guarantee the development of a democratic culture," Chanda said.

Law Association of Zambia vice president Nellie Mutti echoed Chanda's words, but pointed out that there was no provision under Zambian law for the establishment of a coalition government.

"A coalition government may be the best way forward, but the republican constitution does not provide for it. However, the various parties could reach an administrative arrangement under which it could be established," Mutti said.

Several opposition parties explored the possibility of forming a coalition government in the run-up to the elections. However, differences over their respective roles under such an arrangement forced them to abandon the plan. (IRIN)

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