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 2011-09-19 10:11 pm Back to NEWS
Banda Faces Toughest Battle As Poll Campaign Ends
FILE PHOTO: Zambia's President Rupiah Banda

Lusaka — Zambia's campaign period closed this morning ahead of Tuesday's heavily contested presidential elections that will be held simultaneously with parliamentary and local government polls.

President Rupiah Banda, facing his tightest competition, dismissed main rival Michael Sata's claims he wants to rig the polls and challenged the opposition leader to produce evidence as the duo held their last rallies on Saturday.

Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) director Priscilla Isaacs announced a two-day "cooling period" before the electorate cast their ballots, saying candidates must stop campaigning, distributing campaign materials and that the media must not broadcast or publish campaign-related materials.

To avert electoral violence, Zambia Police banned the sale of machetes, axes and 'illegal' brew while Zambia Breweries—a subsidiary of SABMiller—announced it would not distribute beer on polling and subsequent days to minimize consumption of alcohol.

Mr Sata, wrapping up his appeal for votes in Central and Northern provinces, accused incumbent Banda and the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) of plotting to rig the elections.

He urged supporters to sleep at polling stations a night before and after voting to ensure "their votes" were not stolen, again.

Mr Sata narrowly lost to then vice-president Banda by a paltry 35, 000 votes in the 2008 polls, occasioned by the death of incumbent Levy Mwanawasa, meant to finish his remaining three years. He claimed he was robbed of votes.

Both aged 74, this might be Sata and Banda's last attempt at the presidency and it is a do-or-die race.

Mr Sata, running for the top job for the fourth time, campaigns on pro-poor basis and emphasis on empowering the masses and reduction of taxes.

Mr Sata—tipped to pull a win based on his huge rallies kept buoyant with his oratory—has a support base among the poor urban, unemployed youths, large Bemba-speaking community and, now, influential ex-Banda allies.

He has fielded two sons of former presidents, Mr Mwanawasa and Kenneth Kaunda, as parliamentary candidates.

Hundreds of cheering supporters welcomed Mr Banda, riding in the ruling party's blue-white colours branded bus, on his last leg of campaigns in Lusaka's Mandevu slam where he promised to uplift the lives of dwellers, improve infrastructure, woo investment and create jobs for all Zambians.

The President rebuked Mr Sata over rigging allegations: "I challenge him directly and publicly, if you have real proof, go to the Electoral Commission of Zambia, go to the police, go to the international observers and produce that proof. Don't just talk about rigging. Prove it!" said President Banda, ending his 60th and final rally.

"The truth is simple; on Tuesday Zambians will reject him, again. It will be time for him to retire."

The Banda campaign team has attracted accusations of infiltrating mobile phone networks and sending unsolicited campaign messages that read: "For security, stability and prosperity — join the winning team. Make your vote for RB count on 20 September president for all Zambia."

President Banda banks on the country's economic growth, bumper maize harvest, hastily built infrastructure and jobs created under his three-year reign to get a second but first full five-year term.

The latest opinion poll tipped him to win, but with a possibility of an upset from Mr Sata due to a high number of undecided voters.

President Banda enjoys support in his homeland of Eastern Province, parts of central, northern, southern, western and north western while Mr Sata controls the populous Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces, as well as his homeland of Northern and Luapula provinces, parts of central and several other urban regions.

Second largest opposition leader, 49-year-old business tycoon, economist-cum politician, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), told an overcrowded rally in Lusaka he was "God-chosen to rule Zambia" after the Tuesday polls, saying the "tired 74-year-olds must retire."

His supporters chanted: "we want change!" "I will give you jobs because I know how to create jobs," said Hichilema, running for the third time. "Don't vote for recycled leaders."

Edith Nawakwi, 52, is the lone-female candidate in the race of 10 candidates.

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