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Electoral Official: Zambian Democracy on Display in Special Vote

Zambians queue to cast their ballots for the Zambian Presidential elections at Kanyama primary in Lusaka, Jan. 20, 2015.

The chairperson of Zambia’s electoral commission said democracy in her country is vibrant and the only way the citizens know to change their government is through the ballot box.

Irene Mambilima’s comments came as Zambians go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to choose a successor to the late President Michael Sata.

She said her commission has diligently prepared for the election.

“We are very ready. We have all the materials. The [polling] stations will open at around 6 in the morning and close around 6 PM,” she said.

Zambia’s constitution calls for a special election 90 days after the death of a president. Mambilima said the campaign period was compressed by the circumstances surrounding Sata’s death in October.

“According to our constitution, once we lose a president, the election must be conducted within 90 days. That is hardly enough time for anybody to campaign. But, I can say that all the candidates have been crisscrossing the country campaigning,” Mambilima said.

She said the commission has appealed to political parties to tell their supporters to be peaceful during the vote.

“I’m glad to say that the leadership of the political parties have been very supportive. We have met with them a number of times and urged them to tackle the issue of violence,” she said.

Mambilima said the police have assured her commission of their readiness to respond to any situation that may arise during the election and after the compilation of results.

She also said Zambia has no electronic voting machines.

“According to our regulation, the counting is done at the polling stations, and, at the end of the count, each political party candidate, because they are present during the count, will get a copy of the results at that polling station,” Mambilima said.

Isaac Mwanza, the Democracy and Governance Advisor at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in Zambia, said the two leading candidates among 11 are Defense Minister Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party and economist Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

“The election that we are having today is bordering on the two candidates. One candidate from the ruling Patriotic Front, who is [the] Honorable Edgar Lungu, is running on the basis of the fact that the ruling party and the late president had a vision. He was repeatedly said that he has no vision of his own, and he will like to finish [what he began] when he was elected in 2011,” Mwanza said.

On the other hand, Mwanza said UPND candidate Hichilema has told Zambians he wants to be president to turn the country’s weak economy around.

“Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, he has a long history as an economy manager having started his career at 26 years old when he was able to run his own company and succeed in business. He’s one of the leaders that people think can turn the economy around, which has not been very stable,” Mwanza said.

Mwanza said Zambia’s economy, particularly the copper mining industry, will feature prominently in the vote. But, he said, Zambians are divided on the amount of taxes that mining companies have been paying.

“Others think that the mines are not paying enough taxes to the Zambian government and that the Zambian people are not getting a fair share from the mines. At the same time, the mining companies are saying that these mines have employed a lot of Zambians, and that is true, and they are a source of revenue for the government,” Mwanza said.

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