Themba Hadebe/AP
Zambia's Patriotic Front (PF) presidential
candidate Michael Sata

Commission Plans to Verify, Not Recount Zambian Presidential Votes

November 06, 2008 09:29 AM
by Emily Coakley
The Electoral Commission is following a standard post-election procedure but refused calls for a recount of the close race.

Narrow Election Raises Fraud Allegations

Michael Sata, who lost last week’s presidential election to then-acting President Rupiah Banda, asked the Zambian Electoral Commission for a recount. The commission will verify the votes cast in last week’s presidential election, but won’t recount them, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.
“Only the courts of law would order a recount and that is when we would open the ballot boxes,” said Cris Akuna, the commission’s spokesman, in an AFP interview.

Sata received 38 percent of the votes, while Banda received 40 percent, Reuters reported. Of the nearly 1.8 million votes cast, the margin was approximately 35,000 votes. Sata had led Banda by 100,000 votes at one point during the counting, reported the Calgary Herald. 

Though Sata claimed the votes had been inflated to favor Banda, "African observers declared the vote free and fair," AFP said.

Banda, 71, has been acting president since the August death of Levy Mwanawasa, who was re-elected to a second term in 2006. Banda was sworn in on Sunday during a ceremony with his wife, Thandiwe, 21, and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, in attendance, the Herald said.

Reuters describes Zambia as, “one of the most politically stable nations in Africa. However, a prolonged election dispute could unsettle investors at a time when Africa’s largest copper producer is feeling the pinch from the global financial crisis.”

Opinion & Analysis: Calling for calm; voting patterns analyzed

Newspapers in Zambia had praised the mostly peaceful voting on Oct. 30, reported Agence France-Presse. As allegations of vote-rigging emerged, the news service said Zambian papers urged “calm.”

The Zambian Post said, “No political office for anybody is worth a single Zambian life.”

Other media examined the nation’s voting patterns. According to the Zambia Times, Sata did well in areas where the country’s copper mining is centered, called the Copperbelt.

Laurence Caromba of the Centre for International Political Studies in South Africa told the Times: “They’re areas that are heavily penetrated by Chinese investment, which in turn has generated nationalism and xenophobia that Sata has managed to exploit politically.”

China’s involvement in Africa “is popular with some African leaders, but not with African workers or unions. At issue are how Chinese are treating Africans who are working for them,” said Sehlare Makgetlaneng of the Africa Institute of South Africa, in an interview with the Times.

Analysts said Banda will have to make good on inauguration speech promises to help the poor.

In the Lusaka Times, Mingeli Palata said that in every major election over the last 15 years, urban voters have voted for the challenger, while rural voters have supported the incumbent.

“For me this shows that the urban population are not satisfied with the way the ruling party have been governing this country,” Palata wrote.

Zambia’s much-touted 5 percent economic growth hasn’t improved the lives of urban Zambians who can’t find good jobs, are constantly seeing bus fares increase and have a low standard of living, Palata said.

Palata asks whether the rural support for the government means voters there “don’t feel the pinch of a capitalist economy,” or are manipulated by “fraudulent politicians.”

Related Topic: Uncertainty in neighboring governments

In September, South Africa’s president and several cabinet members resigned because the opposing party planned to try to remove Thabo Mbeki from office, according to findingDulcinea.

And Zambia’s neighbor, Zimbabwe, had been working on an agreement by which Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe were able to share power. According to findingDulcinea, in September, President Mugabe, “agreed to share rule of the country with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but has now suggested that Tsvangirai and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, play only a junior role in the government.”

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