During the campaign, Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata was strongly critical of Chinese investment in the country and suggested that he would recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan). One opinion poll in September gave Sata a considerable lead over Mwanawasa, 52% to 27%, with Hakainde Hichilema in third place at 20%, but Mwanawasa questioned these results. Another poll earlier in the month gave Mwanawasa the lead with 33% to Sata's 24%, although this marked a drop from the 45% reported for Mwanawasa by a previous poll in August, and an increase for Sata, who had been at 15%.
The possibility was raised that Sata could be disqualified from the election for allegingly giving a false declaration of assets in August; he had claimed that a former minister in Mwanawasa's government owed him $100,000.
The winner of the presidential elections was determined in one round according to the first-past-the-post system. Initial results from the election gave Sata the lead, but further results put Mwanawasa in first place and pushed Sata into third place. Interim results released after votes from 120 of 150 constituencies were counted put Mwanawasa on just over 42% of the vote; Hakainda Hichilema had 28%; and Michael Sata had slipped to 27%. When opposition supporters heard that Sata had slipped from first to third place, riots erupted in Lusaka. According to interim results Mwanawasa still held an easy lead in constituencies counted up to 16:00 on 1 October.
Late in the afternoon of 2 October, the Zambian Electoral Commission announced that Mwanawasa had officially won the election with 43% of the vote; Sata took second place with 29% and Hichilema took third place with 25%. He was sworn in for another term on 3 October.
The total electorate was 3,941,229 and 2,789,114 votes were cast of which 48,936 were spoilt. Voter turnout was 70.77%.