Zambia’s tight election contest has a winner: Edgar Lungu gets the mandate to lead the country for the next five years. Just more than 100 000 votes separate the two main contestants, writes Charles Mafa.
Hichilema has disputed the results, calling for a recount of ballots in Lusaka and citing “irregularities in the totaling of thousands of votes”. He alleges that the Gen 12, which is the certificate of the announced results at polling stations,was not made available to monitors. He has described the election as a “military coup through a democratic process”.
“This election is a military coup through a democratic process”. – Hichilema
“No one should take away our democracy,” he said in a statement on the Sunday before the election. “We continue to call for a recount of votes in the Lusaka district for the sake of free, fair, credible and transparent elections.” Hichilema has promised to challenge the election through the courts. Under the amended Constitution he has up to seven days to do so.
In a statement on the eve of the announcement of the results, Kofi Annan, chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called for calm and respect for the rule of law. He urged the candidates, their parties and their supporters to avoid violence.
All roads led to the voting booth
Millions of Zambians went to the polls on Thursday, 11 August 2016, to elect a president and members of the National Assembly, amid warnings that the violence witnessed during the campaigns could reduce voter turnout. However, a large voter turnout was recorded at most of the country’s 7 700 polling stations on election day, which had been declared a national holiday.
Although nine presidential candidates contested the election, which was held alongside the national referendum on the Bill of Rights, the main contest was between Lungu, the leader of the Patriotic Front, and Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development. It was seen as a repeat of 2015’s special election, which Lungu had won by a slim margin, to complete the term of President Michael Sata, who had died suddenly in October 2014.
“I have been on probation for one year, six months, and I think I have done very well.” – Lungu
On Wednesday, the last day of campaigns, Lungu had urged voters to give him a full term. “I have been on probation for one year and six months, and I think I have done very well,” he said at a rally. He added that while he would respect the election results, he would not allow anybody to take power through “violence or intimidation”.
Hichilema, his arch rival who was seeking the presidency for the fifth time, said that he was better equipped to “fix the broken economy”. “We are business people,” he said. “We understand the economy, and this economy is broken.”
State of the Zambian economy
The economy was on the minds of many voters, including at a polling station in Kamanga, an area of lower- and middle-class residents east of the capital. Mike Banda (40), a businessman who supports the president, said it was unfair to blame him for the poor economy. “It’s not Lungu’s problem,” he said, raising a clenched fist, the sign of the president’s party.
Noticing this gesture, a jobless man, Isaac Chikopa (23), interjected. He said Lungu and his party, which took over the presidency five years ago, had mismanaged the economy. “Five years ago, I used to have three meals a day, and now I have one,” said Chikopa, adding that he was voting for Hichilema.
Another UPND supporter, 49-year-old sculptor Emmanuel Muntanga, said business has been very tough the past year because the economy has been run down. “For me, we need change to go forward. We have to improve the economy,” he said. “So, we want change so that a government with a vision can change things.”
The recent rise of pre-election violence
In a region that is known for presidents clinging to office for decades, Zambia has had smooth elections and transfers of power since 1991, when Kenneth Kaunda lost power to Frederick Chiluba. However, over the years a handful of people have been killed and several injured in political violence during pre-election campaigns.
Observers attributed the violence to the two main parties, the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development. On Tuesday before the vote, Justice Esau E Chulu, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, said that the violence was “unprecedented and has marred Zambia’s historic record of peaceful elections”.
Tax authorities shut down The Post, the country’s only independent newspaper, in the middle of the campaign
But some critics said that the Patriotic Front, as the governing party, bore greater responsibility for the violence. The police has often acted in favour of the ruling party; and tax authorities shut down The Post, the country’s only independent newspaper, in the middle of the campaign.
Zambia’s economy remains highly dependent on a single commodity, copper, which makes up more than 70% of the country’s exports. Plunging copper prices and decreasing demand from China, Zambia’s main export market, has led to the closing of mines and the loss of more than 10 000 jobs. A severe power shortage, resulting from an El Niño-induced drought (most of Zambia’s power come from hydro-electric power plants) and the mismanagement of its water resources has deepened the country’s economic woes.
Zambia is engaged in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. Lungu’s government has agreed on measures to control spending, including cutting back on fuel and electricity subsidies — but only after the elections.
Despite such economic problems, President Lungu campaigned on promises to increase spending on infrastructure, health and education. Time will tell if these promises are fulfilled.