Nationwide elections have commenced in Zambia Thursday with sixteen presidential candidates gunning for the top job, after a tense atmosphere dominated by economic woes and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The frontrunners are incumbent Edgar Lungu, 64, and his perennial nemesis and business tycoon Hakainde Hichilema, 59, who are facing off at the polls for the third time.
Leaders on the continent have called upon the electoral board in Zambia to conduct the exercise in a free and fair manner.
Ten parties have aligned with Hichilema, who is running for the sixth time. Hundreds of voters waited in long queues in the dark in order to cast ballots at various polling booths in Lusaka.
President Lungu was among the first people to vote at a school in Chawama, a poor neighbourhood of Lusaka.
Lungu told newsmen that Zambians are ready to vote and they arrived in numbers. Worsening living standards have eroded the incumbent’s support base, surveys suggest, and the election could be even tighter than 2016 polls when Hichilema lost by around 100,000 votes.
Lungu came to power in 2015 after winning a disputed election to finish the term of President Michael Sata who died in office. He was elected to a full five-year term in 2016, an election in which his main rival again alleged fraud.
Lungu is accused of borrowing unsustainably, particularly from Chinese creditors, to finance a spree of infrastructure projects.
Under his watch, inflation soared to 24.6 percent in June, the highest rate in over a decade. Zambia also became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt since the coronavirus pandemic began. Zambia plunged into a recession last year as the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the globe. Unemployment rose to 12.17% in 2020, the highest since the PF took office in 2011.
Africa’s second biggest producer of copper after the Democratic Republic of Congo, the eighth producer in the world, missed another debt repayment this year.
Lungu says that “things are moving well in the country” and is confident of victory, although his critics point to the high cost of living, poverty and joblessness. For the youth, things are even worse, with an estimated one in five without a job. The cost of living has also increased rapidly.
O’Brien Kaaba, a political scientist at the University of Zambia said the vote will “be influenced by poor governance and the economy, which is biting.”
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