Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata accused Zambian President Rupiah Banda of plotting to rig next week’s vote as the two candidates wrapped up campaigning in an election that analysts say is too close to call.
Tomorrow’s presidential, parliamentary and local polls will decide Zambia’s leaders for the next five years. Banda has campaigned on a pro-business, pro-growth platform, while Sata argues the incumbent has allowed corruption to fester and given too much away to foreign investors.
Sata held his last rally in the northern province of Luapula, unleashing his typically fiery rhetoric to urge a crowd of thousands to boot out Banda and the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), in power for the past 20 years.
Sata lost to Banda by just two percentage points when the rivals last went head-to-head in a 2008 special election to finish the remainder of late Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa’s term after he died of a stroke.
Sata claims the MMD stole that race and his supporters rioted for days after.
The Patriotic Front leader, who is running in his fourth consecutive presidential contest, accused Banda of plotting to rig -tomorrow’s vote.
“The MMD is mad. They will come with pre-marked ballot papers that they will give our polling agents in order to rig elections,” said Sata, whose biting attacks have earned him the nickname “King Cobra.”
“Banda came into government through rigging elections. Banda and [MMD parliamentary chief whip Vernon] Mwaanga think that we people are stupid. Their time to go has come.”
His supporters waved oars in the air and wielded a large canoe in a nod to Sata’s campaign symbol: a speed boat tugged on a trailer in which he rides to rallies, urging Zambians to jump on board to be saved from poverty and under-development.
Later in the day, more than a thousand Banda supporters brandishing his posters and decked out in the blue-and-white colors of the MMD packed a dusty lot in Mandevu, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Lusaka where he held his final rally.
Banda played up his management of the economy — which grew 7.6 percent last year and 6.4 percent the year before — and his government’s spending on infrastructure.
“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,” he told the crowd. “We will win because only the MMD can deliver security, stability and prosperity for all Zambians.”
Banda has presided over one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa thanks to bumper harvests and the rising international price of copper, the country’s largest export.
The copper boom has drawn a flood of foreign investment to Zambia’s mining sector, especially from China.
However, Sata accuses Banda of letting corruption fester and failing to spread the wealth in a country where most people still live on less than US$2 a day.
Sata rose to fame condemning the growing Chinese presence in Zambia, but has since toned down some of his rhetoric.
This year, he has focused more on the issue of corruption, after Banda’s government refused to appeal the graft acquittal of former Zambian president Frederick Chiluba and disbanded the anti-corruption task force that had accused him of embezzling US$500,000 during his 1991 to 2002 presidency.
Sata also says if elected he will increase taxes on foreign mining firms in a bid to redistribute the benefits of the copper boom.