Zambian opposition leader takes the lead in elections over Edgar Lungu

Zambian opposition leader takes the lead in elections over Edgar Lungu

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema quickly gained the upper hand over longtime and titular rival Edgar Lungu in the country’s tight and tense presidential election, with the National Election Commission urging people to wait the final official results to avoid any fuss.

Lungu, 64 and in power since 2015, faces a potentially close fight against Hichilema, a self-taught businessman who was jailed after narrowly losing the last election by a narrow margin.

Analysts said the vote could be decided by frustrated young people amid the economic crisis. More than half of registered voters are 34 or younger, according to statistics from the Election Commission of Zambia (ECZ).

According to the first results published by the commission on Saturday, Hichilema has 449,699 votes in 31 of the 156 constituencies of the country against 266,202 for Lungu.

Results from constituencies that have long been considered Lungu strongholds suggest that Hichilema – known as “HH” – has gained ground since the 2016 election, which was marred by allegations of rigging.

With overwhelming turnout, especially from young Zambians, who make up the majority of registered voters, long lines formed outside the polling stations on Thursday. Many had to close late to welcome voters, the ECZ said. The first results were initially expected on Friday, but were delayed after the count continued overnight.

The Zambian army was on the streets of the capital, Lusaka, and other parts of the country on Saturday. Lungu deployed the army before the election, saying it was to curb some outbreaks of violence and ordered the deployment of more troops in some troubled areas of the country after two killings on the day of the elections.

Hakainde Hichilema supporters gather in Lusaka on Saturday. Photography: Patrick Meinhardt / AFP / Getty Images

Hichilema’s United National Development Party says the deployment of troops is a tactic of intimidation. Critics accuse Lungu of trying to overthrow Zambia’s record for holding regular, credible elections and peaceful transfers of power since 1991, when the country returned to multi-party democracy after being a party state unique for over two decades.

In Chawama Township in Lusaka, Lungu’s parliamentary constituency before he became president, residents said supporters of the outgoing president and Hichilema were demanding victory and celebrated all night.

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party in Lungu said its vote count showed there had been high turnout in its strongholds and was confident in victory.

Following a complaint filed by human rights organization Chapter One Foundation, a high court on Friday overturned a decision by the government regulator to block social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Lungu has already questioned the outcome of elections in three provinces after accusing the opposition of fueling violence. However, European and African observers said the vote was largely peaceful.

The ECZ announced a ban on electoral rallies in May to curb the spread of Covid-19. But both the PF and Hichilema’s party organized rallies under the pretext of distributing masks.

Hichilema, 59, introduces himself as a self-made man in campaign videos, claiming that he went to school barefoot as a child and attended college through a scholarship from the government. He was the general manager of an accounting firm before entering politics.

The high proportion of young voters could help Hichilema, who has placed the economy at the center of his campaign, said Euston Chiputa, professor of history at the University of Zambia.

“Hichilema has gained ground among young people because there are frustrations about employment,” he told Reuters.

Unemployment peaked in 10 years in 2020, according to estimates by the International Labor Organization, and the nearly 40% depreciation of the kwacha currency since January 2020 has made living more expensive for the estimated 18 million people. ‘inhabitants of Zambia.


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