Zambian Voting Ends in Race That May Determine Copper Policy
Zambians ended voting in presidential and parliamentary elections that may define how the southern African nation spends the proceeds of a rapidly expanding copper industry.
President Rupiah Banda’s main challenger is Michael Sata, leader of the opposition Patriotic Front who lost three times previously. Banda, 74, won by a margin of two percentage points in 2008, keeping the Movement for Multiparty Democracy in power after the death in office of Levy Mwanawasa. Voting stations closed at 6 p.m. local time with results expected in 48 hours, Prissila Isaacs, executive director of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, said by phone from Lusaka.
“Although Banda goes into the presidential ballot as the marginal favorite, the outcome in this poll is far too close to predict, with many voters expected to make up their minds at the last minute,” Gus Selassie, senior African analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said in an e-mailed statement.
The 73-year-old Sata, known to his supporters as “King Cobra” for his aggressive style, says his party will seek more revenue from mining companies with operations in Zambia, including Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX), Vale SA (VALE5), Vedanta Resources Plc (VED) and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (FM) The promise has attracted jobless youths and helped boost interest in the vote: the number of registered voters jumped to 5.2 million people from 3.9 million three years ago, according to the elections commission.
Banda has won praise from investors and the International Monetary Fund for reducing taxes and continuing policies that opened up the industry to investment, helping to boost copper production to more than 700,000 metric tons last year. He has reassured investors that his government won’t follow the lead of neighboring Zimbabwe and demand stakes in foreign companies.
Banda led Sata by 41 percent to 38 percent in an opinion poll conducted in August by the Lusaka-based Centre for Policy Dialogue. Six percent of respondents were undecided. A survey by the same group in April showed Sata would win the presidential vote and that his party will take the most seats in the legislative election, also to be held today.
Long lines formed at voting stations across the capital and the election was peaceful, Sylvia Bwalya spokeswoman for electoral commission said in an interview in Lusaka. A group of MMD supporters attacked Sata’s car, according to the Patriotic Front. The opposition leader was unhurt, the party said.
’Money in Pocket’
Banda’s smiling face on posters promises “jobs, stability and security,” while Sata’s pledge is to put “more money in your pocket.”
“Here in Lusaka we will be voting for Sata, especially us young people,” said Evelyn Soko, 24, a self-employed seamstress. “We’ve had enough of corruption now and we need jobs. Of course, Banda may win because the rural people and the older generations prefer him.”
Zambia’s copper output will probably double to 1.5 million tons by 2015, according to the government. Economic growth has averaged 6.5 percent a year since Banda became president three years ago, according to the IMF.
Zambia may become the fifth-largest copper-mining country in the world by 2013, according to Sophie Chung, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie unit Brook Hunt in London. Producers are planning more than $6 billion in investment over that period, she said. Chile is the world’s biggest copper producer, with annual production of more than 5 million tons.
Vedanta unit Konkola Copper Mines Plc and First Quantum’s Trident Project declined to comment on the election and possible taxes when contacted by Bloomberg News, according to their spokesmen.
While Sata won’t “kill the goose that lays the egg,” the Patriotic Front will demand more from mining companies to ensure Zambians have “something to fall back on when the resources are depleted,” party spokesman Given Lubinda said Sept. 14. New measures will be introduced after consulting with companies if Sata wins the election, he said.
“One thing for sure is that we shall introduce a tax that shall ensure Zambians earn more money than they are earning today,” Lubinda said.
While Banda may win the presidential vote, the Patriotic Front could form an alliance with the United Party for National Development, led by Hakainde Hichilema, to take the lead in the country’s 158-seat parliament, Leon Myburgh, sub-Saharan Africa strategist at Citigroup Inc. in Johannesburg, said Sept. 15.
Should Sata win the election, his actions will likely be more pragmatic than his words during campaigning, Patrick Mair, an analyst with Control Risks Group in London, said by phone Sept. 15.
“Sata has been making contentious statements bordering on the xenophobic,” he said. “He’s flirted with nationalization and the idea of higher taxes, but he’s an archetypal populist. Sata will be far more conciliatory if he is in power.”
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