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Zambians Vote to Choose New President, Parliament - 2001-12-27

Zambians are going to the polls Thursday to choose a new president and members of parliament. The general election will change the political landscape in Zambia.

President Frederick Chiluba says the rest of Africa is watching the Zambian elections. He urged his party supporters to vote peacefully and set an example for the rest of the continent. "We need a peaceful campaign," he said. "Let us show the rest of Africa that it can be done and it will be done here."

Mr. Chiluba took office 10 years ago, after the country's first multi-party elections swept dictator Kenneth Kaunda from power. Mr. Chiluba was re-elected five years ago, although the fairness of that poll was questioned after his main opponent, Mr. Kaunda, was disqualified.

Thirty-three-year-old driver Kenneth Tembo says the poll offers a chance for Zambians to prove something to the world. Mr. Tembo said, "This will be the best time for each and every Zambian to have an opportunity to determine if we have a free electoral process. It will be a time when we are going to show the critics who think we don't have democracy in Zambia."

Eleven candidates are vying for the presidency. There is no clear front-runner. On Election Day, the race is too close to call.

Voters in Zambia can basically be divided into two camps - those who are happy with the government's policies and those who want to vote out the ruling party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy.

Mr. Tembo is voting for Mr. Chiluba's anointed successor, ruling party candidate Levy Mwanawasa. "For us," he said, "voting for Mwanawasa, we are clearly portraying that we are happy with the policies that they have in place. But they haven't been fully implemented. We just want a continuous process to go through."

Nearly 80 percent of Zambians are expected to vote against the ruling party. But the opposition is fragmented and no one single candidate has been able to take advantage of that anti-MMD sentiment.

Lamie Suba is voting for businessman Anderson Mazoka, who is the only major candidate not to take part in the Chiluba government. Ms. Suba believes it is time for a clean break with the ruling party. Ms. Suba said, "They are corrupt leaders, they have been very corrupt. They themselves have become very rich. And the poor become poorer and poorer."

The divided opposition is likely to mean no one party will dominate parliament, the way the MMD has for the last five years.

Ms. Suba thinks sharing power in the legislature will be good for Zambia's democracy. "We will have MP's from all the parties," she said. "I think the opposition will be more in parliament now. It will be good. I'm sure the president will be scared to do whatever he wants to do."

Even some staunch supporters of the ruling party agree. Casious Makalashi is a student who plans to vote for Mr. Mwanawasa. But he likes the idea of a strong opposition in parliament. Mr. Mwanawasa said, "I think that would be good. Because we need to get a mixture."

The Zambian Electoral Commission hopes to announce the outcome by Friday. The plan now is to swear in the new president Saturday. But, privately, some analysts believe it could be next week before the election is decided.