LUSAKA, Sep 20 – Rioting erupted on Tuesday during voting in the Zambian capital, after opposition candidate Michael Sata accused his rivals of attempting to rig a tight contest with President Rupiah Banda.
Violence broke out in a slum outside Lusaka as supporters of Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) claimed they found a man carrying pre-marked ballot papers in a box at a polling station in the densely populated district of Kanyama.
“We searched and found that they were ballot papers, and so we started beating him,” said Francis Mwansa, one of the PF supporters.
The man, identified as Abel Muwowo, was arrested and taken to the Kanyama police station.
The incident sparked a riot, with Banda billboards ripped down by stone-throwing supporters of Sata.
Later in a separate incident in Lusaka, Sata’s car windows were smashed as he visited a polling station, an AFP photographer reported.
Residents also blocked cars from entering Kanyama, threatening to beat anyone who resisted.
Sata is waging his fourth presidential bid, after losing by just two percentage points to Banda in 2008. Sata also had claimed the last election was rigged, and his supporters rioted for days to protest his defeat.
“It’s becoming very difficult. Boxes without covers, papers without serial numbers, those are all the difficulties we have,” Sata told journalists after casting his ballot, shortly before the rioting began.
Police said they were waiting for a report from the Electoral Commission of Zambia before commenting on the violence.
Banda made a televised speech on Monday warning against unrest during the polls, and police were ordered to arrest anyone found in public with a slingshot, axe or other potential weapon.
The presidential, parliamentary and local elections have been hotly contested, though Sata’s fortunes dimmed when his alliance with smaller opposition parties fell through even before campaigning began.
Banda is running on the back of a booming economy that has emerged as one of the fastest-growing in Africa – 7.6 percent last year and 6.4 the year before according to the IMF.
His campaign for his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) has centred on growth and development, with Banda pointing to new roads and hospitals as proof of his achievements.
Sata, a fiery nationalist whose biting rhetoric earned him the nickname “King Cobra”, has attacked Banda as soft on corruption and criticised him for failing to do more to spread the wealth in a country where 64 percent of people still live on less than two dollars a day.
The PF says if elected they will crack down on corruption and bring back a windfall tax on mining firms in a bid to help more Zambians benefit from the country’s huge copper reserves.
Zambia last year was the largest copper producer in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world.
Despite Sata’s tough rhetoric, analysts expect few major policy shifts if he wins. Once known for his fierce criticism of China’s growing presence in the country, Sata has more recently said that he would work with foreign investors, including Beijing.
About 5.2 million voters are registered to take part in the polls, which will decide the country’s leadership for the next five years.