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Zambia Electoral Commission Begins Verifying Controversial Presidential Vote


Zambia's electoral commission is today (Thursday) expected to begin verifying votes from last week's presidential election making it possible for the opposition to challenge the result in court. Main opposition leader Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front party claims the electoral commission rigged the vote for the presidential candidate of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy. Rupiah Banda was sworn in Sunday after the electoral commission declared him winner of the presidential by-election to replace late President Levy Mwanawasa.

Fred Mtesa is a Zambian political analyst. From the capital, Lusaka he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the looming court challenge could strengthen Zambia's democratic process.

"I think it is an important step in the development of the electoral process in Zambia because it means the aggrieved party has an opportunity to lay their grievances through the legal process," Mtesa noted.

He said previous presidential candidates have challenged election results after they were defeated.

"In the first place Mr. Sata is not the first losing presidential candidate to challenge the result of a presidential election in Zambia. In 2001, three losing contestants Mr. Mazoka, Christian Tembo and General Godfrey Miyanda petitioned the results of the presidential election, and they went to court. And of course in the end, the Supreme Court of Zambia ruled that the late President Levy Mwanawasa was duly elected as president of the republic of Zambia, although the court said there were anomalies," he said.

Mtesa said the main opposition leader is not content with the election results.

"For Mr. Sata in 2001 he did not challenge the election results, in 2006 he did complain. And it is understandable given the growing popularity of his party in the urban areas, particularly in Lusaka and the Copper Belt where he swept the votes. I think it is understandable that he feels aggrieved," Mtesa pointed out.

He said poll observers were unanimous about the credibility of the October 30th presidential by-election.

"The election was held under very difficulty conditions, and the Electoral Commission of Zambia was called upon to prepare at a very short notice. But we had reports from monitors of the Africa Union, the SADC (Southern African Development Community) monitors and also local monitors who adjudged that the election were conducted in a free and fair atmosphere," he said.

Mtesa said there was a need to allow the electoral process to flourish.

"It is difficult to say what the court would decide and would have to look at the evidence. And I think for now the right thing to do for every observer is to allow the due process of the law to take its course and it would be a test of the Zambia constitution and to see what would happen in the event that the court ruled that the election was fraudulent," Mtesa noted.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Sata claims the election was marked by discrepancies between vote tallies and the number of voters on registration lists and is ready to challenge the results in court. Under Zambian law, the verification of ballots is required before an aggrieved politician can ask the court to demand all ballots to be recounted.

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