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Zambia Ruling Party Dismisses Latest Pre-Election Presidential Poll

Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) is sharply dismissing a new poll as a sham that does not reflect the enthusiasm of its partisans ahead of Thursday's presidential by-election. The new poll conducted by the independent African market information group Steadman suggests main opposition Patriotic Party (PF) leader Michael Sata is going to defeat acting President Rupiah Banda and the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainda Hichelema. Zambians will go to the polls Thursday to replace the late President Levy Mwanawasa, who died on Aug. 19.

From the capital, Lusaka, Zambian journalist Richard Mulonga tells reporter Peter Clottey that expectations are high ahead of the vote.

"The poll shows that the opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata is going to win the election by 46 percent. The current acting President Rupiah Banda is projected to lose the election with 32 percent. Another opposition candidate Hakainda Hichelema of the United Party for National Development is expected to get 21 percent, while 10 percent of the in the same poll were undecided on who to vote for," Mulonga noted.

He said the ruling MMD has dismissed the latest poll as a farce.

"The ruling party of course has reacted sharply with contempt to the Steadman poll. According to MMD member and veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga, he said the Steadman poll is reflecting the opposite of what the MMD is expecting. They are saying the Steadman poll misled the Zambian people in the previous election in 2006. They are saying the MMD carried their own internal poll, which reflects a true picture of what they expect. So, they are saying the Steadman poll should be rejected with the contempt that it deserves," he said.

Mulonga said the reactions have been mixed after the latest poll was announced.

"It depends on who you are talking to. If you are talking an MMD candidate or member, they would reject the Steadman poll with contempt. If you talk to the Patriotic Front, they would accept it and if you talk to the cadres from the UPND, they will also have their own feelings. But really, the Zambian people are preparing to cast their vote and at the end of the day they expect someone to win. So it really depends on who you are talking to," Mulonga pointed out.

He said the ruling party is dismissing opposition criticisms, which suggest the government's recent developmental efforts, are geared towards influencing the election.

"I was with the MMD campaign team today and they have been talking about that because they are saying for example the government has the responsibility to provide fertilizers to farmers, and in Zambia this is the rainy season for farming. This is when season farmers need the fertilizer most, and there is a program called the fertilizer support program. And they are saying we cannot sustain this program because of the election, adding that development has to go on even with the election. The government is saying that we cannot wait two or three months after the election when the rains are gone. That is when we would be distributing fertilizer. It would be meaningless and bad for the government, so development has to go on even if we have elections," he said.

Mulonga said the acting president is also denying that the government is trying to bamboozle the electorate to vote for the ruling party.

"I remember the acting President Rupiah Banda expressing that point. But it has its effect also on the opinion polls because the opposition is saying the government is trying to use these developmental programs to hoodwink voters. For example in the rural areas where the majority of the voters are farmers, when they receive free fertilizer and highly subsidized farming inputs from the government, they take it as a political somersault or political gymnastic to get votes," Mulonga noted.

Whoever wins will face the formidable task of matching late president Levy Mwanawasa's strong track record of fiscal discipline, praised by Western donors, and his cracking down on corruption.

Some political observers say both candidates have promised to tackle the huge problems facing Zambia, but for all the hype in campaigning, neither is likely to transform the political landscape in the short term.

Both the acting President Banda and opposition leader Sata promise tax cuts and more subsidies for poor farmers who say not enough of the 5 percent annual economic growth of the last five years has trickled down to them.