The president of Zambia Rupiah Banda conceded victory to opponent Michael Sata in the African country’s national election.
With 43 percent of the vote, Sata was declared the winner of a poll that was marred by violence, delays in releasing results and accusations of fraud. Banda received 36 percent of the vote.
The people of Zambia have spoken and we must all listen, a tearful Banda told journalists. Speaking for myself and my party, we accept the results. We are a democratic party and we know no other way.”
Banda added: “Now is not the time for violence and retribution. Now is the time to unite and build tomorrow's Zambia together. The time now is for maturity, for composure and for compassion.”
Banda’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) had ruled the nation for 20 years. Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) party had accused the MMD campaign of receiving heavy financial support from the Chinese government, which has a significant stake in Zambia’s rich copper industry.
Sata has long complained about undue Chinese influence upon the Zambian economy and political life. Of particular concern are the safety conditions in Chinese-owned mines.
The presence of Chinese business interest in Zambia is so deep that the Bank of China branch in Lusaka handles deposits and withdrawals in yuan.
China’s interests in Zambia date back to the construction of the Zambia-to-Tanzania railway in the 1970s. However, in the past decade under Banda, the relationship between the two nations has strengthened – trade skyrocketed from $100 million in 2000 to $2.8 bilion last year.
During his concession speech, Banda denied that his MMD party engaged in any fraudulent activities.
We never rigged, we never cheated, and we never knowingly abused state funds. We simply did what we thought was best for Zambia, he said. Yes, we [and the PF] may have different ideas, but we both want the same things - a better Zambia.”
Speculation is rife over how Sata’s victory will impact mining contracts awarded to foreign companies, especially those from China.
Indeed, Sata has vowed to reintroduce a 25 percent windfall tax on mining companies which Banda’s regime had scrapped. Sata said the tax would benefit Zambia’s masses of poor people.
According to reports, two-thirds of Zambia's population lives on less than $2 a day.
China's foreign ministry said in a statement it will continue to encourage cooperation between the two countries.
As a friendly country of Zambia's, we respect the Zambian people's choice, and are willing to continue to promote traditional friendship with Zambia and expand mutually beneficial cooperation in every aspect, Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters in Beijing.
Meanwhile, a BBC correspondent in Lusaka described the jubilation of Sata’s supporters: “Thousands of people flocked outside the heavily guarded gates banging drums, beeping horns and waving flags.”
One female celebrant told BBC: We want change - especially for the youth.”
Sata is expected to be sworn in later on Friday. He had previously served as a minister for local government, labor and social security, and health before resigning in 2001. He also served as the governor of Lusaka under Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda.
Sata had run unsuccessfully for president three previous times.
Banda further warned Sata -- who reportedly has a quick temper that has earned him the moniker “King Cobra”-- to respect Zambia’s democratic system.
Zambia deserves a decent democratic process,” said Banda. “Indeed, Zambia must build on her past victories. Our independence was hard won, our democracy secured with blood. Zambia must not go backwards; we must all face the future and go forward as one nation. Not to do so would dishonor our history.
Banda further warned: “To the victors, I say this: You have the right to celebrate but do so with a magnanimous heart. Enjoy the hour but remember that a term of government is for years. Remember that the next election will judge you also. Treat those who you have vanquished with the respect and humility that you would expect in your own hour of defeat. I know that all Zambians will expect such behavior and I hope it will be delivered.”