The main opposition candidate in Zambia's presidential elections has declared himself the winner. Anderson Mazoka claims vote rigging by the ruling party is behind the delay in releasing election results.
Presidential candidate Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development says his own party's polling figures show him with a comfortable lead over the ruling party candidate, Levy Mwanawasa. He declared himself the next president of Zambia.
"The answer is quite simple," said Mr. Mazoka. "I must be declared the winner because I have won. There is no alternative."
Official returns have been trickling in very slowly since late Friday. Traditionally, Zambian election results are out 24-48 hours after the polls close. But before Mr. Mazoka made his statement, the Electoral Commission had released only a handful of results, most of them from districts won by Mr. Mwanwasa and his party, the Movement for Multi Party Democracy, or MMD.
About an hour later, a new batch of results was released, showing the race essentially tied.
Mr. Mazoka accuses the ruling party and the Electoral Commission of holding back results from constituencies he has won. He claims they are stalling for time and trying to stuff the ballot boxes.
"It has become abundantly clear that the ruling party, MMD, is involved in a very, very rigorous vote rigging exercise," he said.
Mr. Mazoka says the MMD knows he has won, but that the party is trying to reduce his margin of victory.
The ruling party has rejected the allegations. An MMD spokesman says it is impossible for the party to rig elections it does not control. He says a massive voter turnout means there are simply a lot of ballots to count, and it is taking time for election officials to verify the results.
He admits ruling party figures also show Mr. Mazoka leading, but by a fairly narrow margin.
The opposition leader warned the MMD that attempting to alter the outcome of the vote could spark a hostile response from the Zambian people. He refused to urge his supporters to refrain from violence.
"I will not be the one that determines how the Zambian people react," Mr. Mazoka said. " But they have the right to react in the manner they see fit to defend their rights."
Mr. Mazoka also dismissed allegations that the fragmented opposition might have allowed the ruling party to walk away with a victory, despite a massive anti-MMD sentiment in much of the country.
There were 11 presidential candidates on the ballot, and the opposition support was divided among four or five major contenders. The winner, whoever it is, is expected to take only between 20 percent and 30 percent of the vote. If a few of the opposition parties had united ahead of the poll, analysts believe they would have easily defeated the MMD.