Lungu maintains slim lead
LUSAKA — Zambian President Edgar Lungu maintained a slim lead over his main rival yesterday with nearly half of votes counted as the opposition called for greater urgency in releasing results amid concerns about rigging.
Lungu faces a stiff challenge from Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) who accuses him of failing to steer the economy out of its slump after Africa’s second-largest copper producer was hit by weak commodity prices.
Lungu led with 669 960 votes against Hichilema’s 644 132 after 69 of the country’s 156 constituencies in Thursday’s vote had been collated, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) said yesterday.
Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and the UPND have both said they believe they have won the election.
The winning presidential candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the valid votes cast or the two leading contenders will go into a second round of voting.
The UPND has raised concerns that the slow pace of vote counting is due to some ECZ officials trying to manipulate the result in favour of Lungu, a claim the ECZ denies.
“They have taken long to release the results. In the normal set up they should have been released by Friday,” Hichilema told reporters yesterday.
The ECZ had hoped to have final results from the elections — in which Zambians also chose members of parliament, mayors and local councillors and decided on proposed constitutional changes — by early yesterday. Results were now expected later, officials said, without giving a time frame.
Meanwhile, poll observers are calling for calm as delays in the counting process followed a tense campaigning period.
The Electoral Commission rejected Hichilema’s allegations that it was colluding with Lungu’s party over the result, describing the charges as “regrettable”.
The Christian Churches Monitoring Group, which had 1 670 observers at polling stations across the country, described the election as a “step backward for the country”, expressing deep concern about the environment before the vote.
“We appeal to all Zambians, regardless of their affiliation to remain peaceful, to reject violence,” the group said in a statement.
“Zambia is not a new democracy and should be a model to the region and beyond.”
The CCMG report pointed to opposition candidates being unable to campaign freely, an impartial police force and unbalanced pro-Lungu media coverage.
An EU monitoring team also voiced concern about the violence in the run-up to the vote, which led to campaigning being suspended for 10 days — a move which the observers said had hampered smaller parties running for office.
“The suspension of campaigning in districts of Lusaka and Namwala, southern province from 9-18 July . . . unduly affected small parties and independent candidates,” EU Chief Observer Cecile Kashetu Kyenge told journalists.
The ruling party did not fully comply with the ban on campaigning, she added.
Estimated turnout was about 57 percent — far higher than last year, with long queues and no major violence on voting day.
Zambia, last held a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party in 2011 when Michael Sata took office.
Sata died in 2014, and the 2015 election gave Lungu the right to finish Sata’s term. — AFP