Lungu main­tains slim lead

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/worldwide -

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

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