Zambia Presidential Rivals Neck-and-Neck as Results Flow In

  • Opposition UPND accuses electoral commission of vote rigging
  • Reports of campaign violence overblown, EU observer team says

Early results from Zambia’s presidential election show incumbent Edgar Lungu and main challenger Hakainde Hichilema locked in a tight battle, with the opposition asserting the final outcome is at risk of being rigged.

Verified results from 54 of the 156 constituencies showed Lungu with 48.8 percent of the 1.05 million valid votes cast on Aug. 11 and Hichilema 49.2 percent, the Electoral Commission of Zambia said early Saturday. A candidate must win a majority to avoid a runoff. A high voter turnout and delays in transmitting results from regional centers has held up the release of tallies, commission Chairman Esau Chulu said Saturday.

On Friday, Hichilema accused the commission of colluding with the PF to rig the vote, a charge denied by Chulu and the ruling party. Hichilema’s United Party for National Development said Saturday its concerns about vote tampering hadn’t been addressed and its parallel count showed he had won by a clear margin.

“We are tired of people stealing the elections as we watch,” UPND lawyer Martha Mushipe said at the release of a batch of results in Lusaka.

Voting in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer was largely peaceful following a campaign that was marred by violence and claimed the lives of as many as six people. Lungu beat Hichilema by less than 28,000 votes in a snap election in January called after President Michael Sata died in office.

A European Union observer mission said the commission’s preparations were professional and it tried to increase transparency, yet failed to address the state media’s bias toward the ruling party. While voting went well, the PF misused public resources to campaign and statements made by the two main parties harmed public confidence in the elections and instilled a climate of fear in some areas, chief observer Cecile Kyenge said at a briefing in Lusaka.

“The level of violence has not been as great as reported in the international press,” Thomas Boserup, the EU’s deputy chief observer, said at the briefing. “Zambia has prevailed as a peaceful nation and we anticipate it will continue like this.”

Observer teams from the African Union, Southern African Development Community and Electoral Institute for Southern Africa said they were satisfied with the voting process and there were only isolated incidents of campaign violence.

‘Tense Atmosphere’

The Atlanta-based Carter Center said the election took place in a highly tense atmosphere and the run-up was characterized by significant inter-party tensions and polarization.

“Delays in the announcement of results have led some stakeholders to raise anew concerns about the transparency of the process,” it said in a statement. “Although these complains may prove premature, we note with concern a renewed environment of tension and mistrust.”

A power crisis, an economy growing at the slowest pace in 17 years and falling prices for copper -- which accounts for 70 percent of export earnings -- have dented Lungu’s chances of winning a full five-year term. The kwacha has plunged 25 percent in the past 12 months, pushing the inflation rate above 20 percent. Both Lungu and Hichilema have said they will arrange a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund if they win.

Campaign Pledges

About 6.7 million of the nation’s 16.2 million people registered to cast ballots for president, lawmakers, mayors and councilors, and early tallies showed a 57 percent turnout. They also voted in a referendum to introduce a new bill of rights, which proposes raising the minimum age at which people may marry and giving the public greater access to state information.

Lungu, a 59-year-old lawyer, in his campaign pledged to improve energy supply, build more roads and universities and diversify the economy away from copper. 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. Seven other candidates also appeared on the ballot.

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