- Electoral commission denies claims, affirming independence
- President Edgar Lungu faces strong challenge from Hichilema
Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema accused the nation’s electoral commission of colluding with the ruling Patriotic Front to rig the outcome of an Aug. 11 vote, amid delays in announcing the results. The party and the commission denied any fraud.
“It’s a total mess,” Hichilema told reporters late Friday at the national results center in Lusaka, the capital. “What is going on is collusion between the electoral commission, the police and PF thugs to steal this election.”
Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, and President Edgar Lungu, who’s been in power for about 18 months, are among nine candidates vying to lead Africa’s second-biggest copper producer. The Electoral Commission of Zambia released the first results more than 25 hours after polls officially closed, and said delays had been experienced in transmitting tallies from regional centers amid a high turnout. The verification of results was also taking longer than expected, it said.
“It is regrettable that I hear now that the Electoral Commission of Zambia is conniving with the party in power to ensure that PF is returned into power,” Esau Chulu, the commission’s chairman, told party representatives and reporters in Lusaka. “The commission is an independent and autonomous institution. We are not influenced whatsoever by any institution or any individual.”
Hichilema, who Lungu beat by fewer than 28,000 votes in a snap poll called last year after President Michael Sata died in office, said there was a “deliberate scheme” to steal the election. A PF member had been found in a restricted area at the results center trying to tamper with the results, Hichilema said.
The electoral body was waiting for a police report on the incident, said Priscilla Isaac, the ECZ’s chief electoral officer. The commission did need to ensure its information technology section was secure, she said.
“Those are unfounded accusations,” PF Secretary-general Davies Chama said in an interview. “They are totally nonsense, a sign of defeat.”
About 6.7 million people registered to cast ballots in the country of 16.2 million. A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The commission had released results from 22 of the 156 constituencies by Saturday morning, which showed Lungu winning 56.3 percent support to Hichilema’s 41.7 percent. The early tallies, most of which came from ruling party strongholds, may not be indicative of the final result.
The run-up to Thursday’s largely peaceful vote for the president as well as lawmakers, mayors and local councilors was marred by violence that claimed as many as six lives. The PF and UPND blamed each other for the clashes.
The new administration will have to try to revive an economy that’s growing at its slowest pace since 1998 due to power shortages and a slide in the price of copper, which accounts for more than 70 percent of export earnings. It also faces negotiating a bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund to help bolster the nation’s foreign reserves.
Zambia’s kwacha has weakened 25 percent against the dollar over the past 12 months, the fifth-worst performance in Africa, pushing the inflation rate to more than 20 percent. Glencore Plc and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. are among international companies with operations in Zambia
Lungu, a 59-year-old lawyer, has pledged to improve energy supply, build more roads and universities and diversify the economy away from copper if re-elected. Hichilema, 54, an economist and businessman who has failed in four previous bids for the presidency, has said he will revive growth, promote investment and ensure state funds are better spent.