Despite the hardships of a bankrupt economy and the trauma of an escalating war on the border, Zambians have reelected Kenneth Kaunda president by a wide margin of votes.
For the West, Kaunda's victory is good news because it means the continuation of the most pro-West of the African "front-line" states' leaders involved in trying to find a solution to the Rhodesian dispute.
By late today with votes from most of the 125 districts counted, official returns showed Kaunda winning another five-year term with roughly 80 percent of the ballots cast. This is well above the 51 percent he needed to stay in power.
Although his mandate was reduced from the 85 percent he received in the previous election in 1973, the voter turnout was substantially higher this time, rising from 30 percent to somewhere between 60 and 65 percent in this week's election.
Possibly the most urgent task of the newly reelected president will be to pull his country out of its economic morass caused by mismanagement and by Zambia's over-dependence on copper, its principal export. When copper prices plummeted in the early seventies, so did Zambia's economy. Today, the economically beleaguered country owes more than $1 billion in foreign debts. At home, the most glaring manifestation of the country's current problem is the empty shop shelves and the long lines outside stores for essential commodities.
Discontent from effects of both the war and the economic distress and prompted independent observers and Kaunda's opponents to predict that he would win by only a slim margin and possibly even lose. Although he was the sole candidate in Tuesday's election, the fact that he did not postpone the contest because of the country's massive problems marks Kaunda as an African leader with more than the usual commitment to elections.
Kaunda's high vote is largely attributable to an energetic Western-style campaign directed at what party organizers believed was their greatest enemy-apathy. The program, run by a British campaign consultant, included a rock and roll song praising Kaunda, banners across Lusaka's main street and radio advertisements warning of chaos if Kaunda lost.
Another reason for the high voter turnout may have been the reopening two months ago of Zambia's rail route through Rhodesia and South Africa. The rail link has been closed for the past five years as a protest against the white minority government in Rhodesia. Domestically the reopening was a popular move, since it will help relieve the shortage of consumer goods. Already a consignment of bicycles, wine, powdered milk and other basic and luxury goods has arrived in Lusaka and the products will appear soon in shops.
Before the election, opponents of Kaunda, who has ruled Zambia since its independence from Britian 14 years ago, expressed faith that the election would be honest and would accurately reflect the voting. Nevertheless the results have turned up some unexpected patterns.
For example Kaunda did surprisingly well in the area of the country where most of the copper mines are located which has been particularly plagued by antigovernment sentiment since the golden days of higher prices ended. Some observers were also puzzled by the high support for Kaunda from the southern provinces which bear the brunt of the Rhodesianwar and which are strongholds of support for one of Kaunda's most vocal opponents, Harry Nkumbula*.