Zambia’s Lungu Leading as Opposition Demands Partial Recount

  • Opposition UPND accuses electoral commission of rigging vote
  • Ruling party says electoral body will work professionally

Zambian president Edgar Lungu led his main election challenger Hakainde Hichilema as the vote count drew to a close Monday amid complaints of irregularities by the main opposition and demands for a recount in the province with the most registered voters.

Verified results from 132 of the 156 constituencies showed Lungu with 50.1 percent of the 2.9 million valid votes cast on Aug. 11 and Hichilema with 47.7 percent, the Electoral Commission of Zambia said. 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.

“We have formally requested a recount in Lusaka urban constituencies due to the high number of irregularities identified in the counting and transmission process,” Stephen Katuka, secretary general at Hichilema’s United Party for National Development, said in an e-mail. “The evidence clearly shows that without this recount the election would be severely compromised and could result in a stolen election.”

The law provides that the party can raise a petition within seven days “if they feel that something is not right,” Electoral Commission of Zambia spokesman Crispin Akufuna said in an interview.

“We cannot steal the vote. In this country, it’s the people that vote, not us,” Frank Bwalya, a spokesman for the Patriotic Front, told reporters at the tallying center in Lusaka, the capital. “The Electoral Commission of Zambia will do their work professionally. ”

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.

‘Media Bias’

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.

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.

The Atlanta-based Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, 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 complaints may prove premature, we note with concern a renewed environment of tension and mistrust.”

IMF Bailout

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 revenue -- had dented Lungu’s chances of winning a full five-year term. The kwacha has plunged 24 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.

The kwacha strengthened 0.8 percent to 10.4172 per dollar by 11:28 a.m. in Lusaka on Monday. Yields on the country’s $1 billion of Eurobonds maturing in April 2024 rose five basis points to 9.5 percent.

About 6.7 million of the nation’s 16.2 million people registered to cast ballots for the 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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