Zambian Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata was sworn in as the country’s new President on Friday following his electoral victory over incumbent President Rupiya Banda in a ballot observers say offered a democratic lesson to Zimbabwe on free and fair elections with a graceful concession by the losing candidate.
Banda conceded defeat earlier Friday in a tearful speech urging unity, ending 20 years of power by his Movement for Multiparty Democracy.
"The people of Zambia have spoken and we must all listen," he said, urging supporters to reject acts of retribution, saying "now is not the time for violence."
Zimbabwe civil society activists who observed the Zambian ballot said that despite a few skirmishes here and there the election was conducted in a way that should inspire Zimbabweans given their sad history of often violent and contested elections.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Tinoziva Bere told VOA reporter Violet Gonda that unlike in Zimbabwean elections, observers were allowed to take part from as far afield as America and as nearby as Zimbabwe. He said the police did not intimidate voters and that he encountered no problem in being accredited as an observer.
“It was a breath of fresh air to see efficiency of this kind,” Bere said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Director McDonald Lewanika, also an observer, said that Zambia, which has seen three incumbents conceding defeat since 1991, is among an elite few African nations which have mastered the democratic process.
”This election shows the importance of being vigilant and the ability of people to be able to protect their vote. Also, (Banda's) MMD had been in power for 20 years and people felt that 20 years is too long – their ability to unseat incumbent presidents should inspire the people of Zimbabwe that something like this can actually be done.”
Mr. Sata was reported to have described Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the larger formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, as “a Western puppet financed to cause trouble in Zimbabwe,” and to have defended the controversial land reform program which President Robert Mugabe launched in 2000.
But MDC Organizing Secretary Nelson Chamisa said Mr. Sata's statements could have been based on incorrect information about Mr. Tsvangirai. He added that his party hopes to officially engage with Mr. Sata very soon on democratic matters.