Zambians are heading today to the polls to choose their candidates for President, Parliament, and local councils.
The Southern African nation has 7,023,499 registered voters across 12.152 polling stations in 156 constituencies.
The presidential elections have attracted 16 candidates but most analysts agreed that this election will be a two-horse race between incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party of National Development (UPND) candidate, Hakainde Hichilema.
Just like previous elections, many fear the official results may take days to declare having the nation in anxiety through the period. In 2016, the results were declared 4 days after the election took place.
If no presidential candidate receives more than 50% of the valid votes cast, a run-off will be held between the two highest-ranking candidates within 37 days of the initial ballot. In 2016, Lungu reached the 50% + 1 threshold by just 13 000 votes.
Lungu came to power in 2015 after winning a disputed snap election to finish the term of President Michael Sata who died in office.
The incumbent was then elected to a full five-year term in 2016, although his main rival Hachainde Hichilema alleged fraud. Hichilema is making his sixth run for the presidency in this election
“Please let them come and vote and go back home and stay and wait patiently and peacefully for the outcome,” Lungu told journalists shortly after casting his vote.
The electioneering period has certainly seen an uneven playing field and many view Zambia as one of the fastest declining democracies globally
Zambia under Lungu has seen an erosion of numerous democratic rights with arbitrary arrests and detentions without charge have become commonplace with Hakainde Hichilema having been detained on 15 occasions.
COVID-19 restrictions have prevented parties from campaigning in the usual ways, President Lungu and his running mate have continued touring the country on ‘official business’ accompanied by campaign signage, songs, and handouts. Meanwhile, Hichilema and his team have been routinely blocked from traveling
Several concerns have been raised over the voter’s roll (electoral register), including the refusal of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to submit it to an independent audit raising the stakes and political mistrust among the different supporters.
The decision by President Lungu to have the military force’s patrol has done the state no favours but instead raised tensions.
There is concern the move is intended to depress the opposition vote in the swing province and is an indication that the Government is already preparing to respond to public unrest should the result declared not tally with the expectations of citizens.
Recent analysis and reports have suggested a widespread decline of PF support in both rural and urban areas, with the number of respondents saying they would vote for the PF down from 44.8 percent in 2017 to 22.9 percent in December 2020.