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Zambia: Flawed election, violence overshadow Zambia's Mwanawasa claim to presidency

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

Continuing allegations and evidences of electoral malpractices and high-handedness are adding to the the factors undermining the legitimacy of the slim claim to presidential victory by the ruling party's candidate Levy Mwanawasa. Regardless, he was sworn in as Zambia's new president on Wednesday, January 2, 2002. "Now that I've been sworn in as president ... I will defend the constitution and assure the vote is applied,'' Mwanawasa said at the inauguration ceremony patrolled by some 1,000 police. "If this nonsense will not stop now and continues, then I'm not the president.''

Leading opposition contender Anderson Mazoka has challenged the vote and declared himself president. His supporters threatened more street protests. On Tuesday, demonstrators stormed the High Court building and were dispersed by police firing tear gas.

Zambia's election commission said that with all but two of 150 voting districts reporting, Mwanawasa led Mazoka by 34,777 votes, with 15,000 votes to be counted. National and local election observers noted some irregularities in the Dec. 27 voting, but the governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy and the electoral commission denied the outcome was rigged.

Hence, he still faces a stiff fight to overcome the legacy of a flawed election and the shadow of his mentor, former President Frederick Chiluba. The 53-year-old lawyer became Zambia's third president since independence in 1964 with only 28.7 percent of votes. Another challenge is his main rival, Anderson Mazoka, who had 26.7 percent and vowed to fight on in the streets and the courts."The voting process and election results have been subject of doubt by international and local observers as well as opposition politicians," University of Zambia analyst Fred Mutesa told Reuters.

"This will put a dent in Mr. Mwanawasa's record and will put him on the defense from the start," Mutesa added. Zambia's 10 opposition parties accused the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) of rigging the polls and took to the streets on Wednesday.

Michael Meadowcroft, head of the European Union monitoring team, said the December 27 polls were flawed. "There are clear, glaring irregularities and there is no way we can run away from this," he told reporters on Tuesday.

In his acceptance speech, Mwanawasa accused the EU of supporting the opposition, which analysts said could strain relations with foreign donors.

Despite its mineral wealth, foreign aid accounts for more than half of Zambia's annual budget.

Is Mwanawasa Chiluba puppet?

Mwanawasa, Chiluba's handpicked successor, must also dispel suspicions he will be overly influenced by his mentor. Chiluba had been Zambian leader since 1991 when he defeated founding President Kenneth Kaunda, whose long rule ended with food riots. But a decade later, Chiluba and his MMD are blamed for graft, mismanaging the economy and reviving tribalism in a nation once free of the tribal politics affecting Africa.

Chiluba retired as president only after a failed bid to run for an unconstitutional third term that also prompted street protests. Analysts said Chiluba will remain an influential force within the MMD, despite assertions he would step down soon as its president.

"I will relinquish my party presidency. You will be your own man," he said at Mwanawasa's inauguration. "This office is all yours. No one will control you. We can only support you." Analysts also said Mwanawasa's task of choosing his own ministers will be hampered by a ruling party stocked with those loyal to Chiluba and his policies.

"He will need something like two years to gain political ground and detach himself from Chiluba," said Mwelwa Muleya, head of the influential civic group Foundation for Democratic Process.

Mwanawasa has tried to distance himself from the Chiluba government's record and promised to revive the economy and fight government corruption, but analysts said he will find it difficult to get his policies past Chiluba's men. Mwanawasa's weakness within the MMD is due partly to his quitting the MMD executive in 1994 after a fallout with Chiluba, whom he accused of graft and human rights abuses.

The MMD recalled Mwanawasa from the political wilderness in August to carry the mantle after Chiluba retired at the end of his second and final five-year term.

But Mwanawasa has few close aides within the MMD's top hierarchy and little influence with its parliamentarians. "He faces the difficult task of proving that he is his own man," said Nellie Mutti, vice president of the Law Association of Zambia and a frequent political commentator.

She said Mwanawasa could assert his independence if he dropped Chiluba's cronies from his new cabinet. Almost 85 percent of Zambians live below the World Bank's poverty threshold of a dollar a day despite foreign aid, mineral wealth and rich arable land. with Reuters/AP/newswire reports

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