Faith leaders in Zambia are calling for unity and peace as the southern African nation awaits the outcome of the presidential election held on 20 September 2011 - writes Fredrick Nzwili
The election pitted Michael Sata, the main opposition and the leader of the Patriotic Front, against Rupiah Banda, the incumbent president and the leader of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy.
"The people have been calm in this election except for a few pockets. We hope [as churches] we can sustain that peace and co-existence even after the vote, despite people's different political affiliations," the Rev. Paul Samasumo, spokesman for the Zambian Episcopal Conference, told ENInews in a telephone interview on 22 September from Lusaka, the capital.
Sporadic violence broke out in some areas on voting day, despite an earlier churches appeal for peace ahead of the polls. The denominations had also urged the acceptance of the outcome in the polls which ten presidential candidates took part.
Zambia is officially a Christian country, according to the 1996 constitution, and nearly 87 per cent of the population of 13 million are Christians. Muslims are about 1 percent and Bahais , 1.5 percent. Some reports say Muslims and Christians leaders had been joining to advice politicians on peace issues.
As the slightly over 5 million voters prepared to cast ballots, church leaders conducted peace campaigns across the country. Pastor Emmanuel Mwewa, a field steward director of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Luapula province urged political parties to stress peace to their supporters, regardless of the results.
"I call on the youth in the markets and other business places and streets to desist from alarming people by threatening them through offensive utterances," he told journalists on 19 September.
With Sata's campaigns marked by criticisms of Asian mining companies, mainly Chinese, for unsafe working conditions, the churches urged people to vote for a leader who presented clear political, economic and social strategies that would reduce poverty and human suffering.
Banda, a former diplomat, has been rallying around a successful agricultural subsidy scheme in rural areas where he has the most support.
"We are happy the elections have been calm. People heeded our call, but we can't tell what will happen after the results are announced," said Paul Mumba, a Roman Catholic Church official in Lusaka.
Some church officials say they are concerned that if the election results are too close, violence may occur in a nation where one-party rule ended in 1991.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]