Monday 19 September 2011

Zambia's presidential candidates in final push 24 hours before poll

Zambia's presidential aspirants try to drum up support from voters in last minute campaigns ahead of elections on September 20th.
LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (SEPTEMBER 17, 2011) REUTERS - Election fever is high in Zambia, with only a few hours left before voting begins. Presidential candidates made a final push over the weekend to win the hearts of voters ahead of the September 20th poll.

President Rupiah Banda who's seeking re-election on a Movement for Multi-Party democracy party ticket and his wife, Thandiwe Banda got crowds dancing to popular tunes while on the campaign trail.

Banda has proposed spending 1 trillion kwacha (20 million US dollars) on the upgrading of urban roads and intends more spending on other infrastructure such as schools, clinics and bridges to push Zambia's development if re-elected.
"If you want an MMD government to continue building a modern and prosperous Zambia, if you want to be on the winning side, then do the right thing and vote for the MMD," said Banda.

At least 10 aspirants have signed up to contest the vote largely seen as a two-man race between incumbent President Rupiah Banda and opposition Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata, a gruff populist critical of what he sees as the increasing influence of foreign firms over the economy.

Banda has a narrow lead over Sata although opinion polls show a high number of undecided voters who could still influence the outcome.

The survey by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, an independent research organisation, showed Banda and his Movement for Multi-Party Democracy party with 41 percent of the vote against 38 percent for Sata's Patriotic Front.

"It is tightly contested and the people of Zambia are going to make their decision to choose the president of their own choice who is going to take this country forward both socially and economically," said David Masupa, a Lusaka resident.
Banda has won accolades from foreign mining firms for opening the country to international investment, especially from China, and providing clear regulations on operations that have helped keep the playing field level.

Banda prides himself on his farming roots and is a former associate of Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, whose reliance on Soviet-style central planning drove the economy into the ground in the 1980s.

He has since abandoned socialism in favour of free-market economics to the point that his administration is looking to launch a debut 500 million US dollar eurobond shortly after the election.

On the other side of town, Sata also went out to meet and address supporters who turned out to cheer him on. Some even came carrying bath tubs and canoes in honour of Sata's party symbol - a boat he says will save people from poverty and under-development, should they jump in.

Sata told his supporters to watch out for people who may try to buy their votes.
"You have got your registered voters card, when they bring money get it, when they bring Chitenge [wrappers] get it but on 20th go and liberate yourselves," said Sata.

Sata gave Banda a very close run in the former British colony's 2008 election.

Banda, who has presided over more than five years of strong economic growth in Africa's biggest copper producer, was shown broadly in front in the countryside and Sata in the capital, Lusaka, and the northern Copperbelt.

An alliance between Sata and another opposition party, the UPND, crumbled this year, improving the chances of a new full term for Banda, who moved into the presidency after the 2008 death of his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa.

Since independence in 1964, Zambian elections have tended to pass peacefully, although the kwacha has weakened over the last month, in part because of the political uncertainty and elevated government spending.

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