Monday, October 02, 2006

Partial insanity

There were elections held in Zambia on Saturday. The ruling party's presidential candidate won.The opposition cried foul before complete results were even announced. Rioting ensued.

I absolutely hate writing articles like this because such narratives risk perpetuating the stereotype of Africans not being able to run stable democracies. But the situation is also too idiotic to let pass by without comment. After all, those looking for such a stereotype will find out whether this essay is written or not.

Incumbent president Levy Mwanawasa was credited with 43 percent of the vote vs 28 percent for main opposition leader Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) party and 27 percent for another opposition candidate. According to Zambian electoral law, there is no runoff. Whoever receives the most votes is elected.

Mwanawasa and Sata were once colleagues in the cabinet of former president Frederick Chiluba before they fell out in 1994.

Sata was ahead after the release of partial results from urban areas but controversy erupted when results from rural areas came in propelling the incumbent into the overall lead. Apparently, he thinks that only the votes of urbanites should count.

The elections were praised by monitors from the regional Southern African Development Community (then again, SADC praised last year's Zimbabwe elections as well). The African Union and the regional body COMESA also gave their thumbs up to the polls.

PF supporters also attacked the offices of the daily Lusaka newspaper The Post. Sata accused the paper of being biased against him.

But this raises a broader question about the conduct of elections. Given that the release of partial results seems to cause all sorts of chaos and bitterness, perhaps election officials should consider not releasing partial results at all. Release only final results or final provisional results. At the very least, they wait until there is a fair population of data from all segments of the country before releasing numbers.

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