Voting Extended in Zambian Election, Scattered Violence in Capital

Posted September 20th, 2011 at 2:53 pm (UTC-5)
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Zambian authorities have extended voting hours at some polling stations in what is expected to be a close presidential election between incumbent Rupiah Banda and opposition leader Michael Sata.

Election officials said polling stations that opened behind schedule Tuesday because of late deliveries of election materials would have their hours extended to make up for lost time. Zambian police reported scattered incidents of violence in the capital, Lusaka, but said order was restored quickly.

A delayed start at one polling station in Lusaka angered some voters who threw stones at police and set vehicles on fire. At least four people were arrested. In another part of the capital, people assaulted a man they accused of carrying pre-marked ballots. Election officials said the allegation could not be substantiated.

Zambian President Banda hopes to ride a wave of recent economic success to defeat Mr. Sata, a nationalist who leads the main opposition party, the Patriotic Front. Pre-election surveys predicted a close race.

Mr. Banda defeated Mr. Sata by two percentage points in a 2008 special election to complete the term of late President Levy Mwanawasa, who had died of a stroke. Mr. Banda had served as Mr. Mwanawasa's deputy. Mr. Sata disputed the results, and his supporters rioted for days afterward.

Copper-rich Zambia has enjoyed several years of economic growth based largely on a boom in commodity prices.

Mr. Sata accuses President Banda of tolerating corruption and granting too much power to foreign investors, mainly China, a major operator of Zambian copper mines. But, the opposition leader has toned down has criticism of China during the election campaign.

More than five million Zambians were registered to vote in Tuesday's presidential, parliamentary and local elections. International experts were monitoring the voting process.