China at Heart of Zambia's Election Fight (38963)

Sept. 20 (GIN)-Zambia’s elections kicked off today, pitching President Rupiah Band against the long-time rival of the Patriotic Front Party, Michael Sata, nicknamed “King Cobra” because of his sharp tongue.

The voting has already been marred by reports of electoral fraud and mini riots.

This time, Zambians have turned heavily to the Internet and social media such as Bantu Watch and Twitter to monitor election abuse.

While Banda claims he is for economic growth, Sata accuses of him of corruption and granting foreign investors too much power, particularly China, which has spent over $2 billion developing Zambia’s major export, copper.

Zambia, about the size of Texas, has high levels of poverty. Almost two-thirds of the 13 million citizens live under the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Opposition parties, unions and watchdogs note that most of the copper profits are taken out of the country instead of being reinvested in hospitals and schools. Chinese firms are also said to ignore environmental and labor laws to reap higher profits while the government turns a blind eye.

Banda calls China’s presence a “win-win situation” for both countries, but Charles Muchimba of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia disagrees. “We are discontented with the political and economic situation,” says Muchimba. “While Chinese investors have reaped massive profits, workers have borne the brunt of Zambia’s free-market economy and suffered salary cuts of up to 40 percent during the recession.”

Some 5.2 million people-the highest on record-have registered to vote in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections.