Zambian Ruling Party Challenged By High Turnout, Close Contest In Presidential Election

On Thursday, Zambians queued up at polling centers country-wide to cast their votes for their next President.

The much-anticipated election is expected to be a tight contest between incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the Patriot Front (PF) party and Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

The country has witnessed violence during political campaigns, an uncharacteristic development in a country with a history of peaceful politics. In July, the electoral commission suspended election campaigns for a period of 10 days in the capital, Lusaka, after a supporter of the UNPD was shot dead during a protest over the cancellation of a political rally by the police.

According to Al Jazeera, the European Observer Monitor noted that there was a large and peaceful turnout.

Mrs. Cecile Kyenge, the Chief Observer, was quoted as saying, “We are happy to see many people coming to vote – it shows the Zambians understand the importance of elections and they value their democratic rights.”

Mr. Hichilema, however, stated that PF Party was trying to restrict the activities of its opponents. “We demand a free, fair, transparent and credible election,” he said.

Mr. Lungu, who became president after the death of his predecessor, Michael Sata, and has been accused of stifling the local media. The Post newspaper, a national daily paper, which has been critical of the current administration was shut down by the government over unpaid taxes of about $6 million.

Zambia’s poor economic performance remains a major issue for the country, and Mr. Hichilema has continuously blamed Mr. Lungu for the country’s economic challenges.

This will be Mr. Hichilema’s fifth time running for a government position as he has contested nearly all elections in Zambia since 2006. The wealthy businessman said, in an opinion piece published on African Arguments that Zambians “deserved better from a political elite that has allowed runaway corruption to drive our economy into the ground.”

These elections are unique because, for the first time, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote or have to proceed with a runoff election.

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