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On the Verge of New Zambia?

The tension on the high street's growing by the hour. People are more animated and vocal, and the population of Lusaka has seemingly tripled. I am at an internet cafe on the 11th floor in a city-centre high riser, and I can hear hooting, cheering and general commotion from below. Tomorrow, the Zambians go to vote for a new leader in the presidential and parliamentary by-elections.

Naturally, tomorrow is a day off. I mean, who can expect a person to vote and work on the same day? Jeez. Way too much hassle. Well done on the government for choosing a day in the middle of the week as well. Saturday simply would have not given an excuse for a day off. Most people, as the tradition goes, are not in on Friday either. What's the point? The weekend's only a day away.

I've been watching the election hassle go on for the last month, with a mixture of amusement and shock horror. Where are those democracy defenders when we need them? Only the people who registered in the 2006 elections are eligible to vote. Therefore, anyone who has since turned 18 (the voting age) is not allowed to the polls. Even more ridiculously, people must vote from the polling stations they voted from 2 years ago, which might mean a trek to the other end of a large country with expensive and disorganised transport. In a country where an average person earns 1 USD a day, that's pretty unreasonable.

What does amuse me is the media, or more precise, the lack of it. We were watching one of the candidates, Hakainde Hichilema, being interviewed, and as soon as he'd said, "it's a pleasure to be here today", the power in Chawama, one of the biggest compounds in Lusaka, went off. It came back on as the credits were rolling. Shame, we never found out what he plans to do about the energy deficit.

Quite a few traditional media channels are totally obsolete in a poor country anyway. As a lot of people do not have a TV, or cannot afford a paper on daily basis, people use other medias; a popular way to show your support is to wear a chitenge, a wrap-around dress, with a picture of your favourite candidate, complete with the slogans. This morning, I saw a bicycle adorned with dozens of pictures of the opposition leader Michael Sata, and even more funny (and scary) a bus window so full of posters that the driver had to peer out to see ahead.

Zambian media, even normally, is quite a hoot. Completely void of any international news, (albeit the coverage of the school shooting in Finland which just earned me odd looks at work) it does stories such as "minor increase on boiler production in Ndola expected". I have the internet and BBC world news, thankfully. I think I'd go crazy otherwise. The US presidential elections have had hardly any airtime, apart from the two would-be skinhead assassins who apparently plotted to kill Barack Obama, and even that I'm sure was news worthy only because it seemed so dramatic (Zambians have a taste for drama and romance). I find this surprising; with the kwacha closely linked to the dollar, what happens in the world economy probably has more impact on Zambia than the choice of president, especially since each of them seem to love all sorts of political jargon even more than their European counterparts.

We are expecting a few clashes, especially if the ruling party stays in power. A few weeks ago, an extra box of ballot papers was discovered, and it is still argued whether or not these slips were pre-marked or not. People are restless, and will continue to be restless until all the ballot papers have been received back from the distant provinces, and a new leader can be announced. This should happen by Saturday or so. Until then, I'm laying low.

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Getting ready for the elections; a woman wearing a chitenge skirt of Rupiah Banda, current vice-president.

Posted by Ofelia 01:54 Archived in Zambia Tagged volunteer

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