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Presidential Debate Canceled Ahead of Zambia Election

FILE - Zambian police sit at the Civic Center in Lusaka, Zambia, as election volunteers carry ballot boxes, September 22, 2011.

The president of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says prospective Zambian voters are expressing disappointment following the cancellation of a scheduled debate between candidates of leading political parties ahead of the January 20 presidential election.

Leonard Hikaumba said the move deprives Zambians of the opportunity to choose the best candidate to improve living standards and healthcare.

“It’s quite disappointing that this debate has been put off. It would have given the people a very good opportunity to assess the presidential candidates, because through that debate…the workers would have loved to hear what the candidates understand about the problems affecting [them] and how they intend to resolve these problems,” said Hikaumba.

The Economics Association of Zambia canceled its planned two-hour debate which was to be held on Wednesday.

This came after local media reports suggested that Edgar Lungu, candidate for the ruling Patriotic Front, pulled out because of conflicting campaign commitments.

His withdrawal, the report said, prompted main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) to also pull out of the debate.

Hikaumba said the debate organizers are yet to explain their decision to cancel.

Some analysts say the failure to debate could affect the governing PF party’s chances of winning the election.

But, Hikaumba said it is unclear who is to blame.

He said candidates from the PF and the UPND seem to be the only ones enjoying significant support in the ongoing campaigns.

“From the political issues going around the debate and the discussions, one can conclude that the front runners are basically two; that is, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema of the [UPND] and Mr. Edgar Lungu from the Patriotic Front. The battle appears to be between these two, because wherever you go, these are the two names that are being discussed,” said Hikaumba.

In January, Zambian voters will choose a new leader to replace President Michael Sata. The polls satisfy a constitutional requirement that the Electoral Commission of Zambia hold elections to replace a head of state who dies in office.

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