New president, old problems.

Author:Jere-Malanda, Regina

As we went to press, allegations of vote-rigging, ballot stealing and legal battles were still being intensely discussed in Zambia following the 27 December controversial elections that saw the ruling MMD, written off before the elections, winning the presidency again.

The MMD's candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, (who took over the party's ticket from the outgoing president, Frederick Chiluba) won a tight race he was not expected to win, if the pre-election press reports and opinion polls were any guide.

The shocked opposition expectedly took to the streets in protest, and writs intended to overturn the results were threatened aplenty.

No wonder the local and international media have used the results to underscore "how democracy is failing in sub-Saharan Africa". The unprecedented high voter turnout and the peaceful and orderly nature of the elections themselves amounted to nothing, neither did the real reason why the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won: the split opposition vote.

International election observers found it difficult to accept that an African election could, and did pass, peacefully, without major earthshaking flaws, even amid opposition calls for people to take to the streets to "make the country ungovernable".

A CNN correspondent, unable to fathom the peaceful nature and joyfulness of Zambians, told the world: "Zambians are rather docile".

This is why for the rest of the world, the elections only became interesting after an inconsequential, sporadic skirmish between the police and opposition supporters occurred at the Lusaka High Court as early results started to show Mwanawasa in the lead.

As we went to press, to the credit of Zambians, the skirmish had remained just that - a skirmish.

Indeed, the unrelenting focus on vote rigging not only obscures the true and deeper significance of the elections, but also seems to dig up a new meaning to "free and fair democratic elections" in Africa - the opposition has to win.

Yet many, including some members of the Zambian opposition themselves, agree that the opposition shot itself in the foot and drowned what could have been a clear victory in a sea of more than 10 different parties, each fielding different candidates for just 2.5 million voters in a country of almost 10 million people.

In a BBC online discussion, Dewey Banda, a Zambian, summed up the pragmatic consensus: "These elections," he wrote, "were the most tribally inclined we have ever had in the history of Zambia. The...

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