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Zambian Opposition Candidate Leads in Early Returns from Presidential Vote

Early returns from the presidential election in Zambia indicate opposition leader Michael Sata is ahead with 44 percent of the vote while Acting President Rupiah Banda trails with 34 percent. But observers say that with results in from nearly one-half of the constituencies, the lead could change. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Dakar.

Zambian election officials said vote tabulation was going normally and Thursday's elections had been quiet and orderly.

The head of a monitoring delegation from the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa, Leshele Thoahlane, said voter turnout, however, appeared to have been low, possibly less than 50 percent.

"Generally there was a pretty low turnout and we really were not able to establish what could have been [the cause of] that," he said.

The elections were called two years early after the sudden death of the late President Levy Mwanawasa from a stroke.

By law the vote had to be organized within 90 days. Analysts say as a result there may not have been enough time to raise voter interest among the general public.

Observer Thoahlane also notes that this was a by-election. "And normally in by-elections you really don't get that kind of degree of enthusiasm that you find when you're at the beginning of the normal polling or general elections," he said.

In addition, the winner will serve only two years, the time remaining in Mr. Mwanawasa's term.

Acting President Rupiah Banda, who was Mr. Mwanawasa's vice-president, was the candidate of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy. He ran against veteran opposition leader Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front and candidates from two smaller parties.

Opposition leaders ahead of the vote accused the ruling party of seeking to rig the election. But the electoral commission pledged it would be free and fair.

Protests followed the previous elections but the results eventually were upheld.

Security officials said Zambian forces were on alert to prevent any post-election violence.