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Zambians Vote Thursday for President

Zambians go to the polls Thursday to elect a new president following the death in August of Levy Mwanawasa who had won two elections and served six years in office. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

There are four candidates seeking to become president of Zambia in Thursday's poll, but analysts say the race is really between two main contenders. They are incumbent Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy and the Patriotic Front's Michael Sata.

The candidates have now held their last rallies in what has been a vigorous two month campaign. There have been some clashes but in general the process has been peaceful. Researcher Dimpho Motsamai of the independent Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg, says it is likely that polling will go smoothly.

"I think things are sort of under control, we got reports from the SADC observers there, and also we have COMESA there. And they are expecting things to go, in terms of people casting their votes, to go very peacefully," said Motsamai.

But there have been allegations from opposition parties that the ruling party is planning to rig the poll. Motsamai says these allegations have been fueled by the fact that the Electoral Commission ordered extra ballot papers.

"Out of 3.9 million registered voters, the electoral commission has printed 4.5 million ballot papers. So already we are talking about a situation where there is a lot of debate on the outcome, regardless of what the outcome is," said Motsamai.

The allegations prompted Sata and another candidate, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development, to say they will not accept the outcome of the poll if they conclude there has been rigging. Motsamai says this is irresponsible.

"It is really irresponsible leadership on the part of the opposition parties, and I think it is already heightening prospects for violence, even as we speak," said Motsamai.

The results of a poll released late last week, showed Sata leading with potentially 46 percent, and President Banda trailing behind at 32 percent. But some analysts say the outcome is likely to be very close, and that it is not possible to predict a winner.