You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Zambian election sparks new unrest

- - Wednesday, September 21, 2011

LUSAKA, Zambia —  Fresh violence broke out in this southern African nation Wednesday when angry residents of one town threw stones at police and polling staff vehicles bringing ballot boxes to a counting center.

The incident came a day after voting in national elections had been marred by rioting in several neighborhoods of the capital, Lusaka.

"I can say that there was violence in Solwezi. Our officers are still on the ground to calm the situation," national police spokeswoman Ndandula Siamana said.

Residents in Solwezi, a small mining town in Zambia's North Western province, accused election workers of trying to deliver unsealed ballot boxes to a counting center.

"We discovered that some boxes were not sealed, and we could not allow this to go on, so we asked the [Electoral Commission of Zambia] for an explanation and they did not do that. Hence the riots," witness Moffart Jere said.

He said police had fired tear gas to disperse the angry crowd.

On Tuesday, scattered violence in impoverished areas of Lusaka marred but did not derail general elections in this copper-rich country.

First results were expected late Wednesday after 12 hours of voting ended at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

President Rupiah Banda is seeking a new term of office after completing the term of his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa.

Some analysts said Mr. Banda, who had been Mwanawasa's vice president, benefited from voter sympathy when he won by just 35,000 votes after Mwanawasa's death in 2008.

During that 2008 special election, Zambia's economy was in trouble. Now, the country is benefiting from rising world copper prices. The boom has helped create 100,000 jobs in Zambia, and the government has built bridges, airports and hospitals with revenue from copper.

While Mr. Banda is taking credit for the strong economy, the race is still expected to be close.

Ten candidates are on the presidential ballot, but only Mr. Banda and Michael Sata - who has lost three previous presidential votes, including in 2008 - are considered contenders.

Zambia's 5 million voters also are choosing 150 members of parliament and more than 1,000 municipal councilors.

Mr. Sata is known for his populist rhetoric and attacks on China's hefty investment in Zambia.

Polling was generally smooth. But Ms. Siamana said that in one Lusaka neighborhood, voters claimed they saw a man with pre-marked ballot papers. She said a crowd burned the papers, as well as a truck and a small bar.

Police later arrested five people on charges of malicious damage and said the ballot papers burned were legitimate and had not been tampered with.

Mr. Banda has presented a four-year infrastructure development program that began this year. He pledges to repair, rebuild or upgrade more than 41,000 miles of roads. He already has helped facilitate the building of more than 100 bridges and 27 hospitals.

Mr. Sata's campaign has at times appeared desperate. His party had gone to court to try to have Mr. Banda disqualified, arguing he was ineligible for re-election because both his parents were allegedly born outside the country.

A judge dismissed the petition on technical grounds. Mr. Banda, 74, was born before Zambia gained independence in 1964.

Mr. Sata and his party then turned to the South African company that printed the ballot papers, claiming it is corrupt and should not have been given the contract.

Both the company and the Electoral Commission of Zambia have denied the charges.

The populist Mr. Sata has in the past focused on the massive Chinese investment in the country. But he has toned down his anti-Chinese rhetoric in this campaign.

There's some anxiety in Zambia about the aftermath of the vote. Mr. Sata's supporters have rioted after previous losses, and the violence following recent elections elsewhere in Africa is on some minds here.

National Police Chief Francis Kabonde has ordered extra patrols in volatile areas and banned street vendors from selling liquor and implements such as shovels and axes that could be used as weapons.