Huge turnout as Zambians vote

An expectant mood engulfed the southern African country as a large proportion of the 3.9 million registered voters turned out in droves to vote in polls where the presidency, parliamentary and local government positions were at stake.

Voters started queuing as early as 5am for the chance to cast their ballot when polling stations officially opened at 6am. Voting ended at 6pm, after which counting began. Results were expected this weekend.

President Levy Mwanawasa was among the first people to vote when he cast his ballot at Palabana Basic School on the outskirts of Lusaka.

His closest rival, Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front, voted at Jacaranda Basic School in Lusaka’s central business district.

Three other presidential candidates ‘ United Democratic Alliance’s Hakainde Hichilema, Heritage Party’s Godfrey Miyanda, and All People’s Congress’ Winright Ngondo ‘ were also looking forward to a chance to lead Zambia for the next five years.

There were 709 parliamentary candidates contesting 150 seats in the National Assembly. Out of these, 103 were women.

The voting process was smooth, with the long queues having disappeared by noon, thanks to a computerised voter registration system the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) was using for the first time.

All voters’ details, including fingerprints, were available electronically, which quickened the verification process. Each voter’s fingerprints were compared to those already stored in the ECZ database.

The outcome of the elections rests on how successful the presidential candidates were during campaigns that started on 29 July and closed on 27 September. All the political parties contesting the elections stopped campaigning on Wednesday at 6pm in accordance with the Electoral Code of Conduct put in place by the ECZ.

The presidential candidates made various promises to their supporters, including a pledge by Sata to cut income taxes.

Mwanawasa pleaded with Zambians to return him to power so that he would continue with economic reforms started in 2001. He also believes in the future of Zambia’s agricultural sector.

Hichilema has promised to build universities in each of the country’s 78 districts.

Hichilema was backed in the run-up to the elections by Zambia’s first post-independence president, Kenneth Kaunda, who voted at Woodlands B. Primary School, also in Lusaka.

The country’s second republican president, Fredrick Chiluba, cast his vote at Saint Mary’s High School in Lusaka. He backed Sata in the polls.

Victory for incumbent president, Levy Mwanawasa, could mainly result from the improved economy.

Zambia’s annual rate of inflation dropped at the dawn of this year to around 9.4 percent and has declined further to 8 percent.

The Kwacha, which traded at around 7,000 against the United States dollar five years ago, has firmed since Mwanawasa came to power to trade at about 4,000.

Victory for any of his rivals will not only have implications for the Zambians, but will also mean that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will have a new face as deputy chairperson.

Zambia was chosen to be the deputy SADC chair at a summit held in Lesotho in August, and assumes the chair at the next SADC summit to be held in Lusaka in 2007.

October 2006
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