Zambians Nervously Await Election Results

Posted September 22nd, 2011 at 5:47 am (UTC-5)
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Zambia's High Court has barred three private media organizations from publishing speculative reports on the outcome of Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections, as the country's electoral commission scrambles to finish counting votes ahead its self-imposed Thursday deadline.

The court ruled Wednesday that the country's leading privately-owned newspaper, The Post of Zambia, and two other media outlets were not allowed to publish stories announcing preliminary results before the numbers were officially announced.

On Thursday, unidentified hackers attacked the website of Zambia's Electoral Commission, posting a string of statements claiming that opposition leader Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front party was in the lead over incumbent Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy.

The latest partial results from the election body suggest Mr. Sata does hold a slight lead over Mr. Banda.

Analysts say Mr. Sata's early lead has been boosted by a strong performance in Zambia's urban areas, where votes are likely to be counted more quickly. Mr. Banda is expected to perform stronger in the countryside.

The commission has said it aims to have complete results from all 150 constituencies by the end of the day on Thursday.

Pre-election surveys suggested a close race between President Banda and Mr. Sata, who is making his fourth run for the presidency.

Scattered incidents of violence were reported Tuesday in the capital, Lusaka, but European Union election observers say the vote was conducted in a “correct” manner. EU chief election observer Maria Muniz described the election as fair and transparent.

A civil society coalition also said it was satisfied with how the voting was conducted, saying the Electoral Commission “did their best” to make it easy for people to vote.

But coalition chairman Sam Mulafulafu said he is skeptical the electoral commission will finish counting votes by Thursday.

Mulafulafu said the results are being published very slowly, and he cautioned that this could create doubts about the truth of the numbers. He said voters may begin to wonder why the results are being held back or not being made public as quickly as anticipated.

Opposition parties already have expressed concerns, saying the delay may be a ploy to allow the commission to skew results in favor of President Banda.

Ahead of the poll, Mr. Sata accused the electoral commission of planning to rig the outcome using pre-marked ballots. The electoral commission has denied that allegation.

President Banda campaigned on a record of several years of strong economic growth in copper-rich Zambia, which has benefited from a boom in global commodity prices. Mr. Sata's Patriotic Front accused Mr. Banda of tolerating corruption and not doing enough to ensure that more Zambians share in the wealth of the country's copper reserves.

Mr. Banda defeated Mr. Sata by two percentage points in a 2008 special election to complete the term of the late President Levy Mwanawasa, who died of a stroke.

Mr. Banda served as Mr. Mwanawasa's deputy. Mr. Sata disputed those election results, and his supporters rioted for days afterward.

More than 5 million Zambians were registered to vote in Tuesday's presidential, parliamentary and local elections.