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Zambia Opposition Leader Sata's Lead Narrows as Vote Count Continues

  • Scott Bobb

In Zambia, opposition leader Michel Sata is maintaining a slim lead over rival, Acting President Rupiah Banda, as vote tabulation continues from Thursday's presidential election. With more than three-fourths of the vote counted, Sata has 40 percent of the vote while Mr. Banda has 38 percent. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Dakar.

Veteran opposition leader Michael Sata sprang into an early lead as the first election returns came in from his strongholds in urban areas and Zambia's mining zones.

However, acting president Rupiah Banda gradually gained ground as results began to come in from rural areas where his support is greatest.

The elections were called following the death in August of the late President Levy Mwanawasa from a stroke.

An analyst with South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Judy Smith-Hohn, says as a result the campaign was short though heated.

"It's been a very highly contested election," she said. "They have had a very short time to actually prepare for it. So it's hard to tell what the tendencies, how it would have been if they had had a few months' chance to actually get the battle going."

Mr. Banda campaigned pledging to continue Mr. Mwanawasa's pro-business and corruption fighting policies. These are credited for taming inflation and bringing five percent annual economic growth.

Sata campaigned on the need for change saying that the economic gains had not reached the poor.

Voter turnout was low for the election. Some observers say this was because of the short time available to prepare voters. Others say it was because the winner will only serve two years, the time remaining in Mr. Mwanawasa's term.

The opposition has complained of rigging. But election officials maintain that the vote was free and fair.

In the elections two years ago, Sata complained of rigging after he was narrowly defeated by Mr. Mwanawasa. However, the results were eventually upheld.

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