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Zambians Vote for President, Lawmakers


Zambians have been streaming to the polls to vote in the country's presidential and parliamentary elections. The tightly fought presidential race has brought Zambians out in large numbers.

Incumbent President Levy Mwanawasa is in a fight for his political life with populist contender Michael Sata. Sata has promised Zambians a greater share in the country's revived copper mining industry.

Sata is critical of growing Chinese investment in the copper industry, saying that he will cap foreign ownership in mining at 50 percent; and he has also promised voters lower taxes.

In addition, Sata charges that Mr. Mwanawasa is in failing health. Mr. Mwanawasa was treated for a mild stroke in April but says that he is now in good health and capable of leading Zambia for the next five years.

Mr. Mwanawasa, who is running for his second and final term, went on national television late Wednesday and promised to stand down if he is defeated. He appealed to the country's four million voters to exercise their right to vote and to do so peacefully.

Analysts in Zambia say the presidential poll is too close to call, adding that it has been the mostly tightly contested in the four elections since the end of one-party rule in 1991.

President Mwanawasa's first term of office has been marked by a campaign against corruption. He also implemented stricter financial controls in an effort to improve Zambia's international standing and to promote foreign investment.

These policies have won him praise in the international community, and improvements in Zambia's economy, which enjoyed five percent growth in 2005. Inflation has been declining and the Kwacha, Zambia's currency, has gained against the dollar.

But Sata and other critics say the improvement in the economy has not benefited ordinary Zambians. Sixty percent of the counry's 11 million people continue to live on less than one dollar per day. Critics also say unemployment remains high and the health and education sectors are in poor condition.

The result of the poll is not expected until next week.