Voting Underway in Zambian Presidential Election Rematch

Posted September 20th, 2011 at 9:18 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Zambians are voting Tuesday in what is expected to be a close presidential election rematch between incumbent Rupiah Banda and opposition leader Michael Sata.

President Banda hopes to ride a wave of recent economic success to defeat Mr. Sata, a nationalist leader nicknamed “King Cobra” who heads the main opposition party, Patriotic Front.

With voting underway, violence broke out in the capital, Lusaka, where crowds of angry people damaged vehicles belonging to election officials after one polling station failed to open on time. At least four people were arrested.

There were reports of minor pockets of unrest in the capital, but overall polling appeared to be going smoothly.

Supporters of the ruling party and the opposition have accused one another of using violence as a means of intimidation.

President Banda and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy narrowly defeated Mr. Sata in a 2008 run-off election to replace the late President Levy Mwanawasa, who had died of a stroke. Mr. Sata disputed the results, and his supporters rioted for days afterward.

Mr. Banda says his policies promote economic growth, while Mr. Sata accuses the president of allowing corruption and of granting too much power to foreign investors, mainly China, a major operator of Zambian copper mines.

Mr. Sata recently urged his supporters to “defend” their votes by remaining at polling stations after casting their ballots. He has accused the electoral commission of planning to rig the presidential poll using pre-marked ballot papers. The commission has dismissed the allegations.

The semi-official Times of Zambia says election officials have demanded that those who place their votes must immediately leave the polling centers.

Zambian officials have stepped up security around voting centers, banning street vendors from selling liquor and tools such as axes or shovels that could be used as weapons. Officials have warned that any violence will be met with the “full force of the law.”

More than five million Zambians are registered to vote in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Many international election monitoring agencies are on hand to observe the election process.