The Zambians must choose their president, Thursday, August 12, between incumbent Edgar Lungu and his lifelong rival, Hakainde Hichilema, at the end of a tense campaign, centered on the economy of the first African country to have defaulted on its debt. In the early hours of the morning, hundreds of people were already lining up in front of the polling stations. In Matero, a township west of the capital, Lusaka, dozens of impatient people pressed a policeman to enter the school yard to drop off their ballots first, AFP said. Andrew Daka, 20, who is voting for the first time, wants ” change “ : “We can’t go on like this anymore”, he says.
The two main contenders have crisscrossed the landlocked southern African country, rich in copper, since May, despite a campaign limited by restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fourteen other candidates are in the running, but the race is played mainly between MM. Lungu, 64, and Hichilema, 59, a self-taught and charismatic businessman who is presenting himself for the sixth time. President Lungu voted with his wife in a modest neighborhood in southern Lusaka. “Zambians are ready to vote and there are many of them”, he said on his way out, applauded by handfuls of supporters brandishing their fists in the air.
The rising cost of living has eroded the incumbent president’s base of support, polls show, and the election could be tighter than in 2016, when Mr. Hichilema, nicknamed “HH”, lost a bit. over 100,000 votes. Mr. Lungu, a lawyer by training, is criticized for having borrowed unsustainably, especially from Chinese creditors, to finance a frenzy of infrastructure projects. Inflation soared to over 20% under his presidency and, at the end of 2020, Zambia became the first country in Africa to be in default since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The deployed army
Tensions erupted in the run-up to the vote, with sporadic violence between supporters of the Patriotic Front (PF, in power) and the United Party for National Development (UPND), led by Mr. Hichilema, pushing the head of state to deploy the army. The opposition denounced this unprecedented gesture by qualifying it as an intimidation tactic, which the PF denies. The president has also been increasingly harsh towards the opposition since his arrival at the head of state in 2015, raising fears of tensions in the event of contestation of the results, which should be known to the public. ‘here at Sunday evening.
Some 7 million voters are expected to vote in this country of 17 million inhabitants. In addition to the president, they also vote for legislative and municipal elections. Local and international observers will be scattered around the polling stations. The government threatened to block the Internet if some “Peddle false information that could destabilize” the election. Offices must close at 6 p.m.
The winner must get more than 50% of the vote to avoid a second round, which observers consider unlikely. MM. Hichilema and Lungu both confidently said they expected a win. “Let the Zambian people decide who will lead them”, declared “HH” on the eve of the poll, reiterating its promises to restore the economy and calling on the electoral commission to guarantee a poll “Free and fair”. Mr. Lungu said he was sure he would get 500,000 more votes than his rival, because “People know me now”.