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Zambia Election Results Still Unknown - 2001-12-30

The U.S.-based Carter Center has congratulated the Zambian people on holding a peaceful and relatively transparent election. But the group is concerned that the results of the vote are still unknown.

The Carter Center issued a statement commending Zambians for voting peacefully. The group said there were scattered irregularities, some serious, at polling stations and vote-counting centers. But the center's main concern now is with the delay in reporting final results. Most voters went to the polls Thursday, but by Sunday returns are still incomplete, and it is far from clear who the next president will be. In part because results are not yet in, the center will not say whether it thinks the election was free and fair.

"Certainly, we know we observed a peaceful and transparent election and transparent counting at the polling stations," said former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was co-leader of the Carter Center delegation. "So, we urge the Electoral Commission to make sure that it goes through up to the end of the declaration of the results."

The center says the voting process was cumbersome and slow, which frustrated many voters. Some people waited in line for 12 hours to cast their ballots. The massive voter turnout caused many polling centers to stay open until the next day to accommodate all the voters in line. Many polling agents worked more than 24 hours straight and were exhausted. General Abubakar blames poor planning for many of the problems. "These delays and inadequacies we thought could have been avoided if there were thorough planning from the Electoral Commission," he said.

The other major group of international observers in Zambia, the European Union, has delayed making any formal statement on the election. The EU head observer told VOA he simply cannot comment on the fairness of the poll with so few results in.

It is clear that Zambians are growing frustrated with the slow pace of returns. Just down the road, outside the Zambian Supreme Court, a group of opposition supporters gathered, singing anti-government songs. Passing minibus taxis honked their horns in encouragement. Their passengers leaned out the windows waving their arms and making hand signals to indicate support for various opposition parties - a flat palm for the United Party for National Development, a raised thumb for the Forum for Democracy and Development. Some people made both signs, one with the left hand, one with the right.

The group was there to witness the handing over of a letter to the Chief Justice. Six opposition presidential candidates are asking him to delay swearing in the new president until their concerns about election irregularities are addressed. They blame the ruling party for the delay in releasing results, and accuse it of trying to rig the vote. Both the ruling party and the Electoral Commission deny those allegations.

So far, there have been no reports of violence in response to the long delay. But Saturday, the leading opposition contender for the presidency, Anderson Mazoka, refused to urge his followers to refrain from violence. He said they have the right to react any way they choose. General Abubakar, however, says political leaders should reject violence and try to solve their problems through dialogue. "We have observed a peaceful election," he said, "and I am urging the Zambians to make sure they maintain peace, no matter which way the result goes."

Maintaining the peace is crucial for Zambia's international reputation, and for the well-being of its citizens. The country has been a relative island of stability in a rather hostile neighborhood. Three of Zambia's neighbors are split either by war or serious political instability. The Democratic Republic of Congo lies to the north, Angola to the west and Zimbabwe to the south.

General Abubakar says Africa has had enough political upheavals. He urges Zambian leaders to join hands and work together for the benefit of the Zambian people.