LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) — The man who once threatened to expel "bogus" Chinese investors became Zambia's new president Friday on the back of a campaign that promised jobs and education, and played down the anti-China rhetoric that had failed to win him traction in three previous elections.
Michael Sata's fourth and successful attempt ends 20 years in power for the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, under whose guidance China has become a major role player that underpins the southern African nation's thriving economy with investments of nearly $3 billion.
Sata won 1,150,045 votes, or 43 percent of the total, to 961,796 votes, or 36.1 percent for incumbent Rupiah Banda, according to early results announced Friday by the Electoral Commission. Eight other candidates shared the remaining votes cast.
In 2008, Sata lost to Banda by just 35,000 votes. Sata's supporters celebrated by setting off fireworks and dancing in the streets. On Friday morning, joyful followers overwhelmed the Supreme Court compound where Sata was to be inaugurated, temporarily delaying the ceremony.
Counting had gone on for two days, sparking riots Thursday by Sata militants in three towns of the northern Copperbelt region.
Police said demonstrators stoned cars and buildings in Kitwe and Ndola, and set a market ablaze in Kitwe. Protesters were dispersed by police firing tear gas and water cannon.
China has invested most heavily in Zambia's copper, cobalt and coal mines, and in power plants. But their influence has become pervasive in the past 10 years: Chinese citizens are running farms, restaurants, shops, hospitals and clinics dispensing traditional Chinese medicine.
Sata has strong support in the mining region, where he has accused Chinese managers of exploiting workers with abuse, low pay and poor conditions.
During the 2006 election, Sata made China's growing influence a political issue, threatening to run "bogus" Chinese investors out of the country if elected. He also said then that his party would reinstate a 25 percent windfall tax on mines, which was abolished in 2009.
But few believe any government can turn its back on Chinese investors, who are now firmly entwined in the economy.
"I don't see any real substantive policy changes. China is too pervasive a player," South African-based analyst Martyn Davies said in a telephone interview from Beijing. "Even if the Sata administration has some reservations vis-a-vis its China policy, what exactly can they do?
"Why would you destabilize your strong commercial relationship with China, which is effectively the world's second largest economy?" asked Davies of Frontier Advisory for strategies on investing in emerging markets.
He said he expected China to send high-level delegations to Zambia this year.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was glad to see "a smooth election" in Zambia.
"As a friendly country of Zambia, China respects the Zambian people's choice and would like to work with Zambia to promote friendship and expand mutually beneficial cooperation across the board," he said in response to a question at a regular briefing.
Officials of Sata's party had questioned the well-financed campaign rolled out by Banda's party. Many suggested the money was coming from China — a charge denied by Banda's officials.
Sata was a member of Banda's party until a 2001 leadership dispute, when he left to form his own Patriotic Front party. Both men are 74 years old.
Earlier Friday, Banda conceded defeat and called for Zambians to unite, no matter their political affiliation.
"Zambia must not go backward. We must all face the future and go forward as one nation," Banda said in an address on national television and radio.
He said he believed his party has "done a lot of good" in Zambia, but acknowledged that "maybe we became complacent with our ideals, maybe we did not listen."
Banda had run on the country's strong economic growth, 7.6 percent last year and 6.4 percent in 2009, and development including the building of 27 hospitals and more than 100 bridges on the back of a copper boom.
But poor people who see Sata as their savior say the new wealth has not benefited them.
Banda angered many Zambians when he refused to appeal the acquittal on a technicality of former President Frederick Chiluba, who was accused of embezzling a half million dollars during his 1991 to 2002 presidency. Chiluba and Banda belong to the same party.
Banda's government also infuriated many when it refused to prosecute two Chinese managers charged with attempted murder for shooting at coal miners during a labor dispute last year. A court quietly dropped the charges this year after the mine agreed to pay compensation to 13 wounded workers.
Union leaders said the government was putting its relationship with China ahead of its duty to protect workers.
Sata was a policeman when Zambia became independent from Britain in 1964 and rose to become the country's highest-ranking black officer. He also trained as a pilot in Russia. He later went into business as a consultant on property and other deals.
He started in politics as a municipal councilor in 1981. Four years later, he was appointed governor of Lusaka, a city as well as a province, by Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia's first black president.
In 1991, Sata resigned from Kaunda's United National Independence Party and joined Chiluba's party. Chiluba defeated Kaunda in Zambia's first multiparty elections in 1991, and Sata served as a legislator for 20 years and as minister for local government, labor and social security, and health.
Friends and foes call Sata "ba mudala ba Sata," which means "Old man Mr. Sata," and "ba King Cobra" — Mr. King Cobra, for his famously sharp tongue.
Faul reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.
- Rupiah Banda