Zambia’s Banda favourite to win September 20 election

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Zambian President Rupiah Banda dissolved parliament and set September 20 as the date for elections that are likely to hand him and his Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) another five years in power in Africa’s biggest copper producer.

With the $13 billion economy running at more than 6 percent annual growth, Banda was always in a strong position for the presidential and parliamentary polls and analysts said that could improve if he manages to capitalise on divisions in the opposition.

Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata, a gruff populist who has criticised Asian investment in the mining sector, gave Banda a close run in the former British colony’s 2008 election, Reuters reports

However, a tie-up between Sata and the United Party for National Development unravelled this year, improving the chances of a new full term for Banda, who moved into the presidency after the 2008 death of his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa.
“The split of the alliance is an own goal for the opposition but the ruling party has failed to take full advantage of that,” said Chileshe Mulenga, a political analyst at the University of Zambia.
“The ruling party has a slight advantage but the race is still wide open because the opposition are yet to get out their campaign messages.”

Since independence in 1964, Zambian elections have tended to pass off peacefully. The central bank says increased demand for goods and services during the two-month campaign could push growth above the government’s 7 percent forecast.

However, violence-free polls are not guaranteed.

Dozens of people were wounded in April 2010 during clashes between rival parliamentary by-election supporters, and Sata’s narrow 2008 loss prompted accusations of MMD electoral fraud.

The opposition and some civil society groups have expressed distrust at the election commission and its vote counting, although their requests to have a parallel tally overseen by independent groups have gone nowhere.

Banda, who prides himself on his farming roots, is a former associate of Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, whose reliance on Soviet-style central planning drove the economy into the ground in the 1980s.

He has since abandoned socialism in favour of free-market economics to the point that his administration is looking to launch a debut $500 million eurobond this year.

The southern African country is also regarded as one of the more sensibly run frontier economies in the region and is attracting large amounts of outside investment to its mining and agricultural sectors.