Sata is Zambia’s president-elect

NB: Still hoping from airport to airport and will give my reaction to the Sata victory when I finally get back to Palo Alto on Friday evening Pacific Time.

Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front is the new president of Zambia. Mr. Sata beat incumbent president Banda after getting 43% of the declared results in the just concluded general elections in Zambia.

As was expected, the high turnout (from the numbers I have, low 60s), favored Mr. Sata. In the last election turnout was a dismal 45%.

For more of this read the Post.

 

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outcome of Zambian elections remains uncertain

The Zambian elections remain a toss up.

So why is this so?

See this earlier post for reasons why the opposition might fail to dislodge MMD from power.

In addition, it is hard to tell what will happen because of PF’s campaign strategy of “don’t kubeba” (don’t tell them). Realizing that it is being outspent by spades in the election, PF has adopted a tactic of actively encouraging Zambians to falsify their party preferences. They’ve urged their supporters to attend MMD rallies, take their money and chitenges but not tell them who they are voting for. It remains to be seen if this strategy has achieved its goal or not.

Here are a few scenarios that might play out in tomorrow’s polls:

  • High turnout with PF winning: A high turnout will definitely favor the opposition Patriotic Front (PF). With a high turnout the party will be able to run up the numbers in urban centres and give the ruling party, MMD, no chance of making up for the gap with rural votes.
  • High turnout with MMD winning: An MMD victory after a high turnout will create a tricky situation. The numbers would simply not add up. Mr. Banda has lost enough ground in the last several months (including most crucially in Western Province over the Barotse Land Agreement) to make it very difficult for him to win after a high turnout. This scenario presents a high likelihood of violence in urban areas and particularly in the Copperbelt.
  • Low turnout: A low turnout will almost certainly result in an MMD victory. With a low turnout the PF will not get enough votes to beat MMD’s overwhelming presence in the rural areas. There will also be little likelihood of violence since voters will have revealed their preference for the status quo. This is not an entirely strange outcome since the Zambian economy has averaged a growth rate of over 6% in the last three years.

It is hard to tell which scenario will play out tomorrow. It all hinges on the turnout numbers.

more on the zambian elections

Check out African Arguments for a brief backgrounder.

The election remains too close to call, which means that Banda is winning.

Given how stacked things are against the opposition, they can only win if they do so convincingly. If it is close (like it was in 2008 when the president won by just over 30,000 votes) the electoral commission will be under immense pressure to hand the ruling party, MMD, the win.

Mr. Sata (the main opposition (PF) candidate) has urged his supporters to stay at polling stations to monitor the tallying and relay of results. I understand there will be an NGO-led parallel vote tallying (but which won’t be publicized because of govt. sanctions). I hope I can get a hold of these results before the end of the week. The electoral commission of Zambia has promised to release the results within 48 hours of the polls closing – that is Thursday evening.

In Lusaka everything is slowing down in readiness for the elections. There is a sense that there will be isolated violence in some parts of the city but nothing too serious. From what I gather the Copperbelt is the region most at risk of election-related violence. People there have (or believe that they do) the most to gain if PF wins (The Copperbelt is also majority Bemba. Mr. Sata is a Bemba speaker).

The MMD’s privatization drive (of the mining sector) since the early 1990s has hit this region the most. Many lost their sinecures in parastatals;  free medicare and schooling disappeared; and there is also a sense that foreigners are benefiting at the expense of ordinary Zambians in the region. Mr. Sata has promised to channel more resources from the mining sector into social programs and a more aggressive job drive.

This is largely campaign hot air but it appears to be sticking. The MMD will be lucky if it gets even a single parliamentary seat in the Copperbelt.