Zambia: Opposition Leader Sworn In As President

Michael Sata, a 74-year-old leader of Zambia’s opposition party, the Patriotic Front, PF, has won Zambia’s presidential elections with 43% of the vote to incumbent Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, MMD, who polled 36% with seven constituencies left to be counted.

Sata, popularly known as “King Cobra” for his venomous tongue against poor labor conditions in foreign mining firms, was declared winner by Chief Justice Ernest Sakala in another tightly contested election and has been sworn in Friday as Zambia’s fifth post independent president.

It was a rare example in Africa of an opposition candidate’s cruising to victory and, perhaps more important, the incumbent’s graciously admitting defeat.

It was the fourth time that the PF leader had run for the presidency, having previously contested in 2001, 2006 and in 2008 where he narrowly lost to Banda.

The outgoing president Banda, in a rare move in African politics, has accepted the results and conceded defeat. Rupiah Banda, who was elected president in 2008, tearfully acknowledged that he had lost and called for his supporters to recognize Mr. Sata as president, paving the way for a smooth transition of power.

Sata’s recent departure from his populist policy stance where he previously called for an increase in taxes on mining companies, to a new position that favors low taxes for foreign mining investors indicates that he realizes the risks of tinkering with the economy and possibly not much could change in terms of economic policy.

Zambia, a sparsely populated, copper-rich country in southern Africa, had been ruled by the same party for 20 years. But Mr. Sata, a former government minister who once worked as a railway porter and is popularly known as “King Cobra” for his fierce tongue, tapped into anger about the deplorable conditions in Zambia’s Chinese-run mines.

On Friday, he said, “Foreign investment is important to Zambia, and we will continue to work with foreign investors who are welcome in the country.”

But, he warned, “they need to adhere to the labor laws.”

Indeed, Sata’s victory may just be the beginning of the difficult challenge of dealing with expectations and the party will be under great pressure to prove itself. In its manifesto the party promises the electorate more jobs, better education and social development within their communities. The real test will be how to deliver on these promises.

There are high expectations from the youth and urban-based population who form a greater part of the PF’s support base and these people have been affected by poverty and unemployment. Banda’s economic achievements demonstrated by unprecedented levels of foreign direct investment, FDI, with a growth rate estimated at 7% and FDI pledges amounting to more than $4bn in 2010, did not trickle down to the people. Whether Sata and the PF will be able to give Zambians more meaning to economic growth only time will tell.

Friday reports indicate that Zambia was calm and that Mr. Banda’s supporters had accepted the result. The election was held Tuesday, but totals were delayed after hackers infiltrated the government’s vote-tallying Web site.

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