Saturday, November 01, 2008

Zambian Elections 2008

Rupiah Banda (MMD) is the new President of Zambia. He's won the election by the narrowest of margins defeating Michael Sata by about 1% of the vote. Sata and his Patriotic Front party are now crying foul and claiming that the election has been stolen from them. Unfortunately The Post newspaper, once a bastion of impartiality, is adding fuel to what might turn out to be a nasty fire. Sata said before the election that he would only accept the outcome if he won! The danger is that he now tries to mobilise the popular support he has in the urban areas and causes civil disobedience. Zambia is a peaceful country with no history of violence and there is great respect for the rule of law. However, Sata is a dangerous populist and should he wish to he can organise and mobilise a dangerous level of support from the most disenfranchised people in Lusaka and across the Copperbelt. He has the support of many of the poorest people in the cities and one can just pray that Sata is moderate in the way in which he calls for action from his supporters.

One would hope that Mr Sata takes a step back and thinks before he opens his mouth. Unfortunately precedent would suggest that this won't be the case. Part of the problem is that Sata led in the early stages of the election process. The first constituencies to be declared after Thursday's election were those in the urban areas - PF strongholds - and thus Sata built a strong lead as results were returned. However, the MMD has great support in rural areas and these results were declared after the urban results. Thus Sata's lead was chipped away constituency by constituency until ultimately Banda overtook him and was declared the winner.

Part of Sata's problem is that in his arrogance he fails to appeal to a cross section of society in Zambia and cannot see that without appealing to voters across all provinces he cannot win the presidency. As in 2006 Sata has lost an election because he could not gain support in the countryside. Rather than face this reality Sata cries foul!

Had Sata been blessed with wisdom he wouldn't have broken off negotiations with Hakainde Hichilema and his UNPD party. HH, as he is fondly known, about a third of the vote - mainly in his stronghold of Southern Province. Evidently had Sata and HH reached an electoral pact then one of them may well have secured the presidency. One can only speculate what happened behind closed doors but one suspects that HH knows that his day may well come whilst Sata, a man in his seventies already, was in his last chance saloon as far as the presidency is concerned. The fact that Hichilema can secure a third of the vote from the third party certainly suggests that he may well become the 'Obama' of Zambian politics.

One hopes that Rupiah Banda will continue the legacy of Levi Mwanawasa. The fact that he was the Vice President and from the same political party bodes well for a level of continuity. Let's hope that his critics, and particularly Sata and the Post newspaper, are willing to work with him to secure a brighter future for all Zambians.

The Post has particularly disappointed me during this election campaign. Their reporting has been subtly partisan and anti Banda. They have persisted in referring to him by his first name, whilst referring to Sata by his surname, which is clearly disrespectful in Zambian society. They have made accusation after accusation against Banda's character on the word of witnesses as reliable as those who testified against Christ. In the interest of unity and peace one hopes that the Post will now give Rupiah Banda a chance to govern. The Post has a history of keeping Zambian politicians 'on their toes' and one hopes that they continue to do so in the interest of the people of Zambia but in a non partizan and unbiased way.

I write as one who subscribes to the Post and has long admired the role the newspaper has played in Zambian democracy but who has grown disheartened with the publication in recent months.

Finally I congratulate Rupiah Banda on his victory and pray for peace and prosperity for all Zambian people.

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