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Zambian Presidential Race Still Too Close to Call - 2001-12-29

Early results from Zambia's presidential election show a race still too close to call. But the main opposition candidate has already declared victory, and claims the ruling party is trying to rig the vote.

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 has declared himself the next president of Zambia.

"The answer is quite simple," he said. " 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. Incomplete results show the two candidates essentially tied.

Traditionally, Zambian election results are out 24 to 48 hours after the polls close. Mr. Mazoka blames the delay on a deliberate tactic by members of Mr. Mwanawasa's party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. He says they know he has won, but they are trying to reduce his margin of victory.

"It has become abundantly clear that the ruling party, MMD, is involved in a very, very rigorous vote-rigging exercise," Mr. Mazoka said.

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 simply means there are a lot of ballots to count, and it is taking time for election officials to verify the results.

He admits MMD figures also show Mr. Mazoka leading, but by a fairly narrow margin.

The margin of victory is likely to be key after the new president takes office. With 11 candidates on the ballot, opposition support was divided among four or five major contenders. The winner, whomever he is, is expected to take only between 20 percent and 30 percent of the vote.

That means most Zambians will have voted for somebody other than their new president. The winner will also have to deal with a divided parliament, in which no one party really dominates. A wider margin of victory at the polls could give the new president more leverage in the National Assembly.

If a few of the 10 opposition parties had united ahead of the balloting, analysts believe they would have easily defeated the MMD. Mr. Mazoka dismissed allegations that the fragmented opposition might have allowed the ruling party to eke out a victory, despite a massive anti-MMD sentiment in much of the country.

Mr. Mazoka insisted the opposition has won, regardless of its fragmentation. He warned the MMD that attempting to alter the outcome of the vote could spark a hostile response from the Zambian people. And he refused to urge his supporters to refrain from violence.

"I will not be the one that determines how the Zambian people react," said Mr. Mazoka. " But they have the right to react in the manner they see fit to defend their rights."

There are two main groups of independent election observers in Zambia: one from the European Union and one from the U.S.-based Carter Center. But neither group will comment yet on Mr. Mazoka's statement or on the election in general.

The EU team leader told VOA he is still consulting with his observers on what they witnessed in the field. Both groups plan to issue statements later.