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Zambia Presidential Vote Seen as Too Close to Call - 2001-12-24

The University of Zambia is predicting a close race in Thursday's presidential election. Researchers there have released results of a nationwide opinion survey, indicating there is no clear favorite among the 11 presidential candidates in Zambia. The researchers say two candidates have separated themselves from the rest of the field, with two others not far behind. But the race is still so close, they will not pick a likely winner.

"This election actually could be won even by one extra vote," said Chileshe Mulenga, of the university's Institute for Economic and Social Research, who conducted the survey of 2,000 registered voters nationwide.

"Zambia is a very diverse country, and affinities of people can change within very short boundaries. And because of that, we have got to be cautious and just say that these results are indicative of the levels of support enjoyed by the different candidates," he said.

But the results are so close that the front-runner depends on how you interpret the data. In one analysis, ruling party candidate Levy Mwanawasa is leading. In another, it is Anderson Mazoka of the opposition United Party for National Development. They are separated by only four percentage points.

Two more opposition candidates - Godfrey Miyanda and Christon Tembo - are still very much in the picture, only a few points behind the leaders. In other words, the election is still far too close to call.

With so many candidates in the race, the winner is not likely to take more than 25 percent of the vote.

Shoppers at the bustling Lusaka City Market seem just as evenly divided as those surveyed by the researchers. "I will vote for Christon Tembo as my president. ... I know he can do a lot, said one shopper. "I have decided to vote for [Anderson] Mazoka. ... He is capable of ruling our country," said another.

"I am very confident that Mwanawasa is going to win this election," said one man at the market, while another admitted being unsure who he would vote for. "But according to what I can see, our current economy, it's suffering. And you can even see how people are suffering. So Zambia needs a very powerful leader," he said.

One striking feature of this election is the large number of undecided voters. According to the University of Zambia survey, roughly 20 percent of voters have not yet made up their minds. Mr. Mulenga says that figure points to a general apathy in Zambia toward the election. He thinks most of those undecided voters will not bother to go to the polls.

"I'm afraid there isn't a lot of enthusiasm for the forthcoming elections, mainly because people have been disappointed with the outcomes of democracy over the last 10 years, and especially the last five years," said Mr. Mulenga. "There have been a lot of allegations of corruption in high places. And also there has been a general failure to deliver on the economic front, especially for people in the lower income category."

Zambia is a largely rural country, and in many places polling stations are far away from people's homes. It is also the rainy season, which could make getting to the polls even harder. Mr. Mulenga says a heavy downpour on election day could seriously affect the outcome, by keeping many voters at home -- especially those who are not really committed to their candidate of choice.