It’s dog eat dog in Zambia polls

Incumbent President Levy Mwanawasa’s chief opponent Michael Sata relishes the rough and tumble of politics.

And he’s been in his element since the official campaigning period for the September 28 Zambian elections got underway a few weeks ago.

Campaigning from a manifesto that promises lower taxes, more schools, universities and hospitals, the former policeman has been drawing crowds to his rallies.

Sata who leads the Patriotic Front draws them by his charisma and his no-holds-barred attacks of the government.

And while Mwanawasa’s face looks down at you from everywhere; trees, lamp posts, buildings, vehicles, you will only see a couple of the Patriotic Front (PF) leader.

He promises to revolutionise Zambia in 90 days, pledging to stock up empty hospital chemists with drugs, build new more decent dwellings ‘with toilets you can flush’ for residents in shanty towns, more money in workers’ pockets by raising the tax-free threshold to K1,000,000 (US$251).

Mwanawasa dismisses the promises as the dreams of a man determined to get to State House by misleading the voters.

A section of the media runs editorials warning the voters to be wary of Sata and stay with the tried and tested leadership of Mwanawasa.

Lately Sata has taken to bashing what he calls ‘infestors’, Chinese, Lebanese and Indian investors he says have done nothing for the average Zambian but loot the country of its natural resources in exchange for slave wages for locals.

Mwanawasa, who once called Sata a buffoon, has tried to present a better image of foreign investors, arguing they have poured millions of their dollars to revive an economy that was tottering when he took over five years ago.

He says foreign investment has created thousands of jobs, helped Zambia raise much-needed foreign earnings, brought inflation down from 17 per cent five years ago to 9.4 and helped to lower interest rates, enabling entrepreneurs to borrow money from banks to grow their businesses.

Mwanawasa also takes credit for the massive debt write-off that Zambia has received from international lenders in the last two years that has reduced the country’s debt stock from US$7 billion five years ago to about US$500 million.

The President says this is the result of the prudent fiscal management of his administration.

But it is Chinese investors that are Sata’s pet subject. His constant attacks on them caused the government no small measure of embarrassment at the end of August when he openly stated that Taiwan was a sovereign state and he would have no qualms dealing with it.

Predictably, the comments discharged an outrage from the Chinese embassy in Lusaka which stated that Sata’s ”irresponsible statements had deeply hurt the people of China and damaged the relationship with Zambia which has always supported a one-China policy”.

The embassy put out figures designed to show the extent of its recent investment in Zambia, stating that 150 Chinese companies had invested US$300,000 and created some 10,000 jobs in the last few years only.

The statement also suggested that China might consider pulling out of Zambia.

Even former President Kenneth Kaunda, under whose regime the Chinese laid the rail-line that links Zambia to the Tanzanian port of Dar-es-Salaam, was forced to step in and accuse Sata of misleading the public.

Mwanawasa’s campaigners admit that Sata, the cigar-smoking former Lusaka governor remains their biggest headache of the four rivals that the incumbent faces on September 28.

Hakainde Hichilema, the youthful and wealthy leader of the opposition alliance UDA is likeable but lightly regarded outside his home area of Southern Province and Lusaka while bear-sized Ken Ngondo of All People’s Congress has more body weight than political clout.

Heritage Party’s Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda, a former vice-president did commendably in the last election in 2001 but his light has dimmed considerably since then.

Just three days before Zambians cast their vote, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) says it is happy with the ground work it has done in preparation for the country’s fourth democratic elections.

While observers from the region and overseas keep trooping in and taking positions in various corners of the country of about 10.5 million people, ECZ chairperson justice Irene Mambilila told The Southern Times all was in place for the polling booths to open at 06:00 on Thursday morning.

In order to allow workers to vote, the Zambian government has declared September 28 a public holiday.

“Everything has been done; the voting materials have been delivered. We are now waiting for the day to come and we are happy with what we have done so far,” said Mambilima.

She said the ballot papers for the parliamentary and local government elections had also arrived from South Africa. The ballot papers for the presidential election had arrived earlier.

She also confirmed the arrival of observers from the EU and SADC. A 41-person SADC parliamentary forum delegation from 11 SADC member states was in the country to observe the tripartite elections.

The delegation, invited by Zambia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and lead by the Speaker of National Assembly of Mauritius Rajkeswur Purryag and SADC PF secretary-general, Kasuka Mutukwa will be observing elections in Zambia for the second time running.

The European Union has sent 80 election observers, consisting of eight election experts, 36 long-term observers, and 48 short-term observers.

Chief observer, Annemie Neyts told journalists in Lusaka the number was expected to be higher than 80, because some locally recruited short-term observers from diplomatic staff of EU member countries in Zambia would also join the mission on the Election Day.

‘ Additional reporting by Mervin Syafunko in Windhoek.

September 2006
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