LUSAKA, November 1 – Zambia’s opposition candidate Michael Sata on Saturday maintained a fragile lead over acting President Rupiah Banda in the presidential poll, amid renewed accusations of vote rigging.,
Sata had 40.7 percent of the vote compared with 38.5 percent for Banda, with nearly three-quarters of the 150 constituencies reporting, giving Sata a lead of just 35,364 ballots, said Electoral Commission of Zambia chairwoman Florence Mumba.
The Patriotic Front (PF) leader, who has frequently accused Banda’s ruling Multiparty Movement for Democracy (MMD) of election fraud, had seen his lead narrow sharply as results trickled in.
Sata stormed into the Lusaka vote centre after the latest release of results and accused the ruling party of being "a bunch of thieves," saying the voter roll had been inflated in Banda’s favour in MMD strongholds.
"These are fake," the fired-up leader told journalists. "This election is not free and fair."
When asked if he would accept loss, Sata replied: "How do I accept defeat when I have not been defeated?"
The MMD said Saturday the party was confident of victory over Sata. Results have already been announced in most of Sata’s strongholds.
"We expect to win all the remaining (constituencies) except two," Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, a top MMD official, told AFP.
Cleophas Phiri, president of the Zambia Initiative Foundation, a local body which promotes electoral democracy, also believed the election was swinging toward Banda.
"I think the tide is changing in favour of the ruling party," he told AFP.
The election was called after president Levy Mwanawasa died in August following a stroke. The winner will serve until the end of Mwanawasa’s term in 2011.
Final results were expected late Saturday with electoral spokesman Cris Akufuna saying numbers from rural Zambia were "barely trickling in".
Akufuna said he would comment on Sata’s voter roll allegations once he had reviewed the details of the complaint.
The Patriotic Front lodged a complaint with the electoral commission over the "slow pace" that results were being released, and on Friday again accused the ruling party of election fraud.
This was after an MMD official predicted on national television that Banda would win by some 60,000 votes, based on publicly available polling station totals.
Although observers and election officials said voting went smoothly Thursday, police and soldiers were put on alert for possible violence after the hotly contested race was announced.
Sata, 71, nicknamed "King Cobra" for his fiery rhetoric, ran on an anti-poverty campaign promising better jobs and housing.
He has also vowed to force foreign companies to hand 25 percent stakes to local investors, and is an open admirer of neighbouring Zimbabwe’s controversial President Robert Mugabe.
Although he has little formal education, he is a shrewd political operator who rose to top level government before breaking off to form his own party.
Banda, 71, is a Western-educated former diplomat who campaigned on promises to maintain Mwanawasa’s economic policies, which led Zambia through years of sustained growth.
He has made his own populist pitch to rural farmers, slashing the price of fertiliser by 75 percent in the week before the election.
Although Mwanawasa reined in inflation and built up impressive foreign reserves, Zambia remains one of the world’s poorest countries with more than 60 percent of the population living on less than two dollars a day.