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Zambians Head to Polls to Choose Successor to Late-President Mwanawasa


Zambians went to the polls Thursday to elect a president following the untimely death of former President Levy Mwanawasa. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Dakar.

Voters in Zambia turned out early Thursday to choose their next president with memories still fresh of the sudden death from a stroke last August of the late-president Levy Mwanawasa.

Reporter Richard Malonga visited several polling stations and said the balloting was orderly.

"The voting here started quite well, quiet," he said. "The polling stations opened at 6 am but at some stations people started queuing up as early as 0400 because people wanted to be the early bird [to cast their votes]."

Interim President Rupiah Banda, who was Mr. Mwanawasa's vice president, campaigned pledging to continue the late-president's pro-business and corruption-fighting policies.

Student Emanuel Biyela, speaking by telephone from a polling station in Lusaka, said many voters want continuity.

"Most of the people want their taxes to be lowered and more jobs to be created, and above all for the agricultural sector to be improved," he said.

Opposition leader Michael Sata, who was narrowly defeated in the last elections two years ago, campaigned as a champion of the poor. Two other candidates, businessman Hakainde Hichilema and retired army general Godfrey Miyanda, also campaigned on a platform of change.

Josephine Kabaso, who is raising three children on the wages of a domestic worker, said workers' salaries need to be raised.

"We want change," she said. "We need change because we have got children and the children they will be the future leaders."

She noted that Mr. Mwanawasa's government made primary education free. But she said two of her children are in secondary school and their fees are higher than her salary.

Mr. Mwanawasa's government reduced inflation and raised economic growth to five percent a year. But businessman Morgan Kaseba says many voters are looking for new ideas.

"Right now most of the people seem to be poor," he said. "There are no jobs. The investment that is said by the government to have been brought in, no one is actually feeling the impact. It's not trickling down to the poor. So people need to be assured that whoever comes will definitely brings the economic power to their pockets."

Nearly four million people were registered to vote. Members of the opposition complained that 600,000 extra ballot papers were printed that could be used to rig the results.

But Zambia's Independent Election Commission said everything was being done to ensure a free and fair vote.

Protests followed the previous elections which the opposition said were rigged in favor of the ruling party. However, the results eventually were upheld.