Lusaka – Social media access was largely restored in Zambia on Saturday as a first small set of results from a hard-fought presidential election were announced overnight, as was a high voter turnout.
Both the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party and main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) claim their respective candidates are in the lead, citing their own tabulations.
President Edgar Lungu, 64, is facing veteran opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema, 59, for the third time amid growing resentment about rising living costs and crackdowns on dissent.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has so far only released the results of 15 out of 156 constituencies, which put Hichilema in the lead for the time being.
A next batch is expected around mid-morning.
Thursday’s vote, which dragged late into the night, saw sporadic clashes and troop reinforcements in parts of the southern African country.
Lungu – who deployed the military following pre-election clashes – strengthened the army presence in three provinces after two deaths were reported on election day, including a PF chairperson.
Social media access, throttled in the capital Lusaka just as Hichilema cast his vote, was almost fully restored on Saturday following an order by the city’s High Court – although WhatsApp remains blocked.
The final outcome is set be announced within 72 hours of the last polling station’s closing time, meaning the wait could stretch to early Monday morning.
There is widespread concern about election rigging.
Scuffles occurred at several polling stations after people were accused of carrying pre-marked ballot papers, which the ECZ has denied.
African Union and European Union observers are scheduled to comment on the poll later on Saturday.
Around seven million people were registered to vote, the majority aged between 24 and 34, out of a population of over 17 million.
Alongside the president, they also elected a parliamentary representative, a mayor and local councillor.
Hichilema is running for the sixth time, backed by an alliance of ten opposition parties.
Another 14 candidates are also vying for the presidency, although it is essentially a two-horse race between Hichilema and the incumbent.
Picture: Getty Images