|ZAMBIA POLL LEAVES EVERYONE GUESSING.
Updated: 22 December 2001
by By Kondwani Chirambo and Hugh McCullum in Lusaka
Political rivals criss-crossed Zambia's nine provinces in driving rain today, trying to woo a still largely undecided 2.6 million voters as the most unpredictable election outcome in the nation's history approaches.
With the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections only five days away on 27 December, the electorate is still presented with a difficult task of picking a president from 11 candidates, four of whom stand nearly equal chances of winning the poll.
Yet the sheer numerical number of presidential contestants, none of them without outright nation-wide appeal, leaves pundits mired in calling the result of Zambia's third multi-party elections since reverting to pluralism in 1991.
A far from satisfactory number of registered voters means the vote will split many ways and most likely the next president would be elected on a minority vote. Out of an estimated five million potential voters, only about 50 percent registered and an undisclosed number have yet to collect their voters' cards from registration centres.
The winner takes all by simple majority under the first-past-the post electoral model.
An independent national opinion poll conducted by the University of Zambia's Institute for Economic and Social Research, said that the main presidential contenders are Levy Mwanawasa of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), Christon Tembo of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) and Heritage Party's Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda.
The poll also suggests that the former ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP)'s Tilyenji Kaunda, son of Zambia's founding president Kenneth Kaunda and businessman Ben Mwila of Zambia Republican Party(ZRP) are dark horses.
The institute predicted that this year's winning president would not obtain more than 30 percent of the vote.
The results of the poll suggests that political parties either ignored or misunderstood the priorities and wishes of most Zambians. The parties did little research to establish the people's needs, the institute said.
By all indications, the 150 elective parliamentary seats could be shared amongst at least five political parties. Most contending parties admit the next government may be a coalition.
Competition is territorial: most parties can claim popularity in only a few provinces of a country with 11 million people, covering an area of more than 752, 612 sq kms. Zambia is the most urbanized country per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa.
A homogenous, largely ethnically integrated population concentrated along the line of rail between the southern and northern tips of the country, is the target of politicians who have ranged their campaigns around poverty alleviation, job creation, health care, agricultural development and responsible government.
They have focused on the regions with the highest eligible voter population: the Copperbelt, Southern, Lusaka, Eastern, Northern and Western provinces. Out-going President Frederick Chiluba has been barnstorming the country to drum up support for his candidate Levy Mwanawasa, a controversial choice within MMD ranks as his opponents continue to question his medical fitness for office.
Mwanawasa, a former vice-president, suffered serious injury in 1993 in a road accident but insists that he is not "a cabbage but will be a steak" after five years if he wins the presidency.
Tembo and Miyanda, two other former vice-presidents, and the ex-Anglo-American Corporation President(East and Central Africa), Mazoka are all trying to slice into what once was MMD domain and will, from all appearances, make life hard for Mwanawasa.
FDD are the party that seems to cause the MMD most concern, mainly because it's a high-profile off-shoot from the ruling party, born at the height of a nation-wide civil society and church-based campaign that successfully prevented Chiluba from altering the nation's constitution to run for a third term.
Tembo, then vice-president, led a cabinet revolt that saw 21 ministers and deputies sacked by Chiluba in the middle of his year for publicly opposing him. At least 80 Members of Parliament joined a public rally for impeachment and now constitute the core of the FDD.
Yesterday, FDD vice-president Edith Nawakwi, a former Chiluba finance minister, pledged before a rain-drenched crowd in the sprawling township of Matero--the country's oldest--to revive the agricultural sector, which she said was mismanaged under Chiluba.
"The biggest challenge for the people of Zambia is poverty. Eighty percent are living below the poverty line", she said to loud cheers. FDD would resurrect the co-operative marketing institutions scrapped under Chiluba's neo-liberal economic approach, to support the small farmer.
She bemoaned the collapse of the country's local government system, saying this had contributed to the high levels of unemployment dogging the country.
"Government is the number one employer anywhere in the world. Local government is number two. We shall ensure that all 73 districts in Zambia are funded. Currently, only 25 of them are which means people are employed without pay," she said.
Nawakwi blamed Chiluba for the state of the economy, citing the president's alleged practice of concentrating power in himself and decision-making in a handful of close advisers as a source of weakness. Chiluba changed his agricultural ministers seven times in 10 years, she said, a clear indication of the lack of stability in the out-going government.
She said her party would ensure that foreign transnational companies that had purchased the country's huge and troubled mining industry engaged Zambian suppliers to assist create jobs. She accused the transnationals of ignoring Zambian labour in favour of South African workers. She predicted that her party would form the next government. The campaign is so far peaceful: supporters from opposing camps mingle freely and express their preferences openly.
However, the rains and the impending festive season worry observers here that the voter turnout might be adversely affected on polling day.
Business leaders continue to urge the government to declare 27 December, election day, a national holiday. The Bankers Union of Zambia (BUZ) yesterday added its weight to the appeal of many other civic, church and labour organizations calling for a holiday, challenging all employers to give priority to national issue by allowing maximum opportunities to vote.
This is the first national election held in Zambia at this time of year. Usually elections are held in October to avoid the difficulties of the heavy rains on a fragile infrastructure and the holiday period when many people travel.
BUZ acting general secretary Makungu Chitalu, called for people to vote in great numbers "to elect responsible leaders who would be able to stir development in our nation. Posterity will judge us harshly if we allow selfish and thieving politicians whose only interest is to plunder this country's wealth," Chitalu said.
The Electoral Commission says that all ballot papers will be ready and shipped to all 5,509 polling stations across Zambia before the 27 December voting day. Printing had been delayed deliberately for security reasons but that the presses are rolling now and will be distributed before next week's tripartite elections for presidential, National Assembly and local government councillors .
Justice Bobby Bwalya, chairman of the commission predicted the elections would go smoothly and that results would be known by midnight on voting day from most polling stations.
He also expected the same peaceful environment that has pertained since independence elections would continue despite the 11 presidential candidates this year (SARDC).
This article can be reproduced with credit to SARDC and the author
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