Zambia's presidential and parliamentary elections, concluded Thursday, held special interest for Zimbabweans, not only because they took place next door, but because presidential challenger Michael Sata had pledged if elected to pursue Zimbabwean-style land reform and declared himself an admirer of President Robert Mugabe.
Voting in Zambia was reported to have gone smoothly with only minor logistical delays reported. Results of the elections were to be announced some time next week.
The main focus is the race between Sata and incumbent Levy Mwanawasa, who has been praised for his economic policies and anti-corruption efforts, though more than two-thirds of Zambians still live on less than the equivalent of US$1 a day.
Patriotic Front leader Sata, a populist, accused Mwanawasa of selling out the country to foreign business. Sata promised to reduce taxes, boost social programs, and give workers a bigger share of copper revenues. He also made an issue of Mwanawasa’s health – the 59-year-old president suffered a minor stroke earlier this year.
But for Zimbabweans, the main point of interest is Sata's proposed land reform. Land reform in Zimbabwe is considered by many to have destroyed the key agricultural sector and triggered the general economic collapse which continues today. The government of President Robert Mugabe blames Western sanctions, though.
Ironically, Zambia is one of the countries to have benefited when evicted white Zimbabwean farmers sought greener pastures across the Zambezi. Sata said Zimbabweans are much happier because of land reform, while president Robert Mugabe’s critics are in his words, “imperialists.” But, unlike Harare, Sata wants to reduce China’s influence in the local economy, especially in copper mining.
For perspective on Thursday's elections and insights into the differences with and the similarities between politics in Zambia and Zimbabwe, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Denford Beremauro, a program officer for election monitoring and observation with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network.
An accredited election observer in the Zambia balloting, Beremauro noted significant differences, particularly much greater transparency of voting rolls in Zambia.