Zambia sees massive turnout in general elections

SANF 21 no 21
Polls opened in Zambia on August 12 as the country holds its sixth general elections since multi-party elections began in 1991 to choose a President, Members of Parliament and Local Government representatives.

The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) registered about seven million Zambians who were expected to cast their ballots in the polls in which 16 candidates are vying for the presidency and 156 parliamentarians will be elected. According to the Commission, 12,152 polling stations were set up in 1,858 wards.

As in the past two general elections, incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, who is seeking re-election, faces opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, as his main challenger.

Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, which President Lungu leads, has expressed confidence of winning the polls, regardless of the stiff competition expected from Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UNDP).

“We are winning, otherwise I would not be in the race if we were not winning,” Lungu told supporters after casting his ballot.

President Lungu, who came to power in 2015 following the death of then President Michael Sata, was in 2018 allowed by Zambia’s Constitutional Court to contest in this year’s elections after the opposition had sought to have him blocked arguing he had served two terms already.

In the 2016 elections, the PF party won 80 of the 156 parliamentary seats, while the UNDP had 58, with the remainder shared among independent candidates and other smaller parties.

Addressing the challenges facing the country’s economy was the main rallying point for campaigns by both President Lungu and Hichilema. President Lungu has also focused on tightening control of the country’s natural resources.

Hichilema’s campaign rode on the need to improve performance of the economy and reduce food prices as well as availing more employment opportunities for the youth.

“Today millions of Zambians went out to vote for a better future. The turnout was both huge and inspiring,” he said after he had cast his ballot.

The Electoral Commission expects to announce the winner for the polls 72 hours after the polls have closed.

Voter turnout was high in both urban and rural areas and is expected to be more than the 56.45 percent recorded in 2016.

Some voters slept at polling stations in order to be the first to cast their ballot. By close of polls, long winding queues of voters could still be seen.

ECZ Chief Electoral Officer Patrick Nshindano said the majority of polling stations had opened on time, save for a few owing to technical challenges. However, all voters who were in queues before closing time were allowed to cast their ballots.

Election campaigns were largely restricted, as large gatherings were not allowed as the country is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw political parties resorting to door-to-door and social media campaigns.

The pandemic also resulted in the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), opting to virtually observe the elections.

“Due to the increased risk and challenges occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, SADC took a decision not to physically deploy the SADC Electoral Observation Mission to the republic of Zambia,” said President Mokwgeetsi Masisi of Botswana, who is the chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

“Instead, SADC adopted a virtual approach of consultations with key electoral stakeholders in the furtherance of the consolidation of democracy in the region, in accordance with the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”

President Masisi impressed on the need for voters to strictly adhere to Covid-19 protocols to avoid spread of the pandemic.

Observers from the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the European Union were among regional and international observers deployed for the elections.

Prior to the polls, Zambia recorded incidences of election related violence that resulted in the death of two PF supporters leading President Lungu to deploy the military to restore order.

“I’ve allowed other wings of the defense force to join the police in maintaining law and order in those points where we have experienced violence,” he said.

“The loss of those two lives and the injuring of many other people is not something to take lightly.”

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