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Weather keeps Zambia polls open

Election officials count ballot papers at a voting station in Lusaka. Zambians voted for their next leader on Tuesday in a tight race between a populist lawyer and a wealthy economist after the former president died in office. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Election officials count ballot papers at a voting station in Lusaka. Zambians voted for their next leader on Tuesday in a tight race between a populist lawyer and a wealthy economist after the former president died in office. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Published Jan 20, 2015

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Lusaka - Some voting in a Zambian presidential by-election was to carry over into Wednesday, said electoral authorities after bad weather prevented election materials from reaching all polling places.

The weather hampered voting at many stations and was blamed for generally low turnout in the election to replace Michael Sata, the president who died of an undisclosed illness on October 28.

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The vote pits the ruling leftist Patriotic Front against the pro-business opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) in the copper-rich southern African nation.

Patriotic Front candidate Edgar Lungu, 58, who is also justice and defence minister, and the UPND's Hakainde Hichilema, 52, are the front-runners in the 11-candidate field.

More than 5 million people are eligible to vote in the by-election.

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Lungu has pledged to pursue the policies of Sata, who won widespread popularity by promising to redistribute wealth to the poor.

“I will carry on from where the president left,” Lungu said after casting his vote.

However, Sata was unable to control the soaring cost of living in the country, where about 70 per cent of the population lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

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Hichilema, who is seen as a pro-business candidate, advocated support for companies and better economic management.

The weather was not the only problem during the voting, alleged some candidates.

There was confusion at one polling station in Lusaka where key ruling party member, Nkandu Luo, who is also a cabinet minister, accused the electoral commission of favouring Hichilema.

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Luo was advised to lodge a formal complaint with the commission over her allegations of a ploy to rig the election.

Later, Hichilema made an impromptu appearance at the same polling station, in the company of supporters, and reportedly harassed polling agents.

“Sadly, we have received reports of some political parties interfering with the process,” said Priscilla Isaac, head of the country's electoral commission, during a briefing.

She also bemoaned the challenges of holding an election during the rainy season and said it was unfortunate that some polling stations were unable to receive the ballot papers on time due to the bad weather.

“The earliest we could hold this election was where we are now. There was no way we were going to avoid having our election in the rainy season. Holding one election such as this is challenging enough and our tradition requirement is to hold the three on the same day, so you can imagine, you triple the challenge.”

Isaac said the commission had no control over the weather, adding that its aim was to ensure that all the ballot papers were delivered on time.

Acting President Guy Scott - Sata's deputy, who became Zambia's first white head of state since independence - was not eligible to run for president because his parents were not born in the country.

“It has been like being on a stormy sea in a small boat,” Scott described his presidency, which was criticized by some Zambians as representing a colonialist heritage.

“What's there to miss” about being president, Scott asked after casting his vote. “There is nothing to miss about being phoned in the middle of the night,” he said.

Election results were not expected until Wednesday at the earliest.

Sapa-dpa

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