With nearly two-thirds of the results in, Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata has won nearly 41% of the ballot in 93 of 150 constituencies while acting President Rupiah Banda has almost 37% of the vote, poll officials said.
Zambian opposition candidate Michael Sata's lead over acting President Rupiah Banda narrowed Friday in a neck-and-neck presidential vote with nearly two-thirds of the results in, poll officials said.
Sata's won nearly 41 percent of the ballot in 93 of 150 constituencies while Banda gaining almost 37 percent of the vote, said Electoral Commission of Zambia chairwoman Florence Mumba.
Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development had held his 20 percent share of the vote, Mumba said.
In the first results released Friday morning Patriotic Front (PF) leader Sata, nicknamed "King Cobra" for his fiery rhetoric, held a 29 percent margin over Banda's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
"Clearly it looks like the ruling party is bridging the gap," said Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes.
"It is beginning to look more in favour of the ruling party," he told AFP, adding Banda could overtake Sata with results from a number of ruling party support bases still to be released.
Cleophas Phiri, president of the Zambia Initiative Foundation, a local body which promotes electoral democracy, was more cautious about Banda's chances but said the race was unpredictable.
"They might be catching up but to reach the PF total vote might be difficult," he said. "It's a tight race."
Although observers and election officials said voting went smoothly Thursday, police and soldiers remained on alert for possible violence after the hotly contested race was announced.
Protests were likely whichever party won, said Habasonda.
"Unrest is very likely because both the two leading contenders believe they cannot lose this election," he told AFP.
Sata has repeatedly accused authorities of planning to rig the election, and on Thursday he again warned that he would not accept a loss to the MMD, accusing police of conspiring with electoral officials to rig the vote.
The election commission has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and its spokesman Cris Akufuna said that voting proceeded without serious incident.
Observers from the African Union also said the election had gone smoothly.
The poll was called after president Levy Mwanawasa died in August following a stroke. The winner will serve until the end of Mwanawasa's term in 2011.
Sata, a 71-year-old, who bills himself as a "man of action", won support for his pro-poor policies, promising better jobs and housing.
He has also vowed to force foreign companies to hand 25 percent stakes to local investors, and is an open admirer of President Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Although he has little formal education, he is a shrewd political operator who rose to top level government before breaking off to form his own party.
Banda, 71, is a western-educated former diplomat who campaigned on promises to maintain Mwanawasa's economic policies, which led Zambia through years of sustained growth.
He has made his own populist pitch to rural farmers, slashing the price of fertiliser by 75 percent in the week before the election.
Although Mwanawasa had reined in inflation and built up impressive foreign reserves, Zambia remains one of the world's poorest countries with more than 60 percent of the population living on less than two dollars a day.
Date created : 2008-10-31