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Zambia Presidency Still Undecided - 2001-12-31

Zambians are still waiting to find out who their next president will be. With most of the results in, the ruling party candidate appears to be leading by a narrow margin. The opposition parties are uniting in protest, claiming the vote has been rigged, and hoping to stop the inauguration of the next Zambian leader.

The two leading contenders for the presidency are Levy Mwanawasa of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and Anderson Mazoka of the opposition United Party for National Development.

The lead has swung back and forth between the two men during the past few days, but it remains unclear who will win. Analysts predict the final results will be in by early Tuesday.

Opposition supporters are predicting trouble if Mr. Mwanawasa is declared the new president. Even if he wins the most votes, most Zambians cast their ballots against the ruling party. Some analysts fear angry voters could take to the streets if the ruling party retains the presidency.

Before the poll, the opposition had been severely divided, and Mr. Mwanawasa faced 10 challengers on the ballot.

Opposition leaders are claiming massive vote-rigging and electoral fraud. They say it is the only way Mr. Mwanawasa could have won.

The ruling party and the Electoral Commission of Zambia have vehemently denied vote-rigging. Some opposition supporters admit their division has hurt them, splitting the anti-government vote.

But they appear to be united at last, now that it appears the MMD candidate could walk away with a victory. They are asking the chief justice to delay swearing in the new president until the Electoral Commission addresses their concerns about what they call widespread irregularities in the vote-counting process.

Behind the scenes, the opposition was again beginning to fragment Sunday when it appeared Mr. Mazoka might actually win the presidency. United Party for National Development officials indicated he would ask the other opposition parties to drop their objections to the results if he was declared the winner.

But that changed when the ruling party candidate, Mr. Mwanawasa, regained his slim lead at the polls. Mr. Mazoka and his party have re-joined the other opposition parties calling for the swearing-in ceremony to be postponed.