Lusaka – Zambia was still counting votes on Saturday after a hard-fought general election, with the main opposition candidate leading in the 20% of constituencies announced so far after a high turnout.
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 in the southern African country.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has so far released the results of 31 out of 156 constituencies, which put Hichilema ahead with 449,699 votes, compared to 266,202 for Lungu.
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.
Hundreds of UPND supporters marched through the capital Lusaka on Saturday, voicing impatience at the ECZ.
ALSO READ | Zambia election results trickle in as social media returns
Soldiers deployed to police Thursday’s vote following violent pre-election clashes monitored the scene from armoured military vehicles.
Voting dragged on late into the night and saw sporadic clashes and troop reinforcements in three provinces after two deaths were reported on election day, including a ruling party chairman.
Social media access, throttled in Lusaka just before Hichilema cast his vote, was fully restored on Saturday following a high court order.
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.
There has been 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.
ALSO READ | ‘We’re winning,’ says Lungu as debt-ridden Zambia votes in closely contested polls
The head of the African Union’s observer mission, Ernest Bai Koroma, on Saturday said voting “operations were conducted in a peaceful, transparent and professional manner”.
European Union counterparts were slightly more critical of the poll, denouncing the internet curbs and “unequal campaign conditions”.
The electoral process was “technically well-managed” but “marred by… restrictions on freedoms of assembly and movement, and abuse of incumbency”, chief observer Maria Arena told a press briefing.
Security forces blocked Hichilema from campaigning in several parts of the country, including the strategic Copperbelt Province, citing breaches of coronavirus measures and a public order act.
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.
Follow African Insider on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Picture: Getty Images
For more African news, visit Africaninsider.com