Zambia elects Hakainde Hichilema as next president

UPND leader to succeed Edgar Lungu who concedes win despite claims of unfairness

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema casts his vote in Lusaka ahead of his presidential win.   Photograph: Salim Dawood

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema casts his vote in Lusaka ahead of his presidential win. Photograph: Salim Dawood

 

The main opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, has been declared a clear winner of the country’s presidential election.

The former businessman, who leads the United Party for National Development (UPND), received about one million votes more than his closest rival, outgoing president Edgar Lungu, who was seeking a third term in office as the ruling Patriotic Front’s (PF) candidate.

Zambia’s electoral commission said on Monday that with only one of the 156 constituencies left to count, Mr Hichilema had secured 2,810,777 votes compared to Mr Lungu’s 1,814,201.

There were seven million people registered to vote in Zambia’s general election, which also included parliamentary and local government polls. Election officials said the turnout on Thursday was about 70 per cent – much higher than anticipated.

‘Free and fair’

On Saturday, as the presidential election outcome began to take shape, Mr Lungu (64) alleged the polls were not free and fair, claiming PF election officials were chased away from voting stations in three provinces.

However, five of the 16 presidential candidates wrote a letter to Mr Lungu saying if this was the case, it was because his regime had made it impossible for them to reach the “free and fair” standard.

In the run-up to the poll, opposition parties claimed their candidates and supporters were harassed and intimidated while campaigning for votes. Mr Lungu also deployed soldiers to patrol the capital, Lusaka, after clashes between UPND and PF supporters left two dead.

After the electoral commission refused his request to nullify the vote on Saturday and it became apparent the margin of his defeat was large, Mr Lungu conceded the election in a live television address.

“I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transition of power,” he told the nation on Monday.

Mr Lungu (64) has led Zambia since 2015, when he replaced the country’s then president, Michael Sata, who died in office.

Daunting task

His stint as Zambia’s leader was marked by a significant economic downturn, spiralling government debt, widespread accusations of human rights abuses against his regime, and massive unemployment.

In November, Zambia became Africa’s first country to default on its debts during the pandemic.

Mr Hichilema (59), who last week was contesting a presidential election for the sixth time since 2006, now faces the daunting task of reviving the copper-rich country’s economic fortunes.

A self-described ordinary “cattle boy”, Mr Hichilema said in his final pre-election speech that his desire to become president was rooted in a need to see ordinary Zambians get a better chance at life.

International election observers have said the polls were transparent and peacefully organised, but they condemned government restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement that were introduced during the campaign.

The final parliamentary and local government poll results are expected in the coming days.