Zambian leader Rupiah Banda was poised to claim victory on Saturday in the mineral-rich African nation's presidential race despite opposition leader Michael Sata's vow to contest a poll he said had been rigged, Reuters reported.
Banda, a pro-business centrist who became acting president after Levy Mwanawasa died of a stroke in August, trailed Sata throughout two days of vote counting but pulled ahead for the first time on Saturday night.
Preliminary results showed Banda with 708,683 votes versus 682,171 for Sata, the leader of the opposition Patriotic Front. The count was based on results from 148 of 150 constituencies.
The ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy said it was confident that Banda would sweep the remaining two areas.
"This lead is permanent and we have won. We know we have won in every polling station and district of the last two constituencies," Banda's campaign manager, Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, told Reuters.
The PF said Thursday's vote was marked by discrepancies between vote tallies and the number of voters on registration lists. It announced that it would ask a court to order a recount of the entire tally.
"If they (the court) can open tomorrow we will do so because what we are seeing displayed on the boards does not tally with the ballots in the boxes," said Willie Nsanda, chairman of the PF's election campaign.
Tension rose in the capital Lusaka, a Sata stronghold, as the opposition's allegations of fraud became more strident.
A Reuters witness said large numbers of armed police were patrolling the city on Saturday night.
Earlier, Sata stormed into a Lusaka conference hall where the results were being announced, accusing the electoral commission of padding Banda's vote total.
"I have evidence that results are being inflated ... They cheated me in 2006 and they want to do the same."
Sata, a populist with strong support among workers and the poor, made the same charge when he lost the 2006 presidential election to Mwanawasa, whose death triggered the election.