Judging by the local and social media in Zambia, one would think there are only two candidates, incumbent president Edgar Lungu and leading opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, Hakainde Hichilema running for the presidency in the 12 August poll.
Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, is electing a president, members of parliament and other local leaders today. Several polling stations surveyed in Lusaka opened on time at 06:00hrs and voting is going on peacefully.
The voters speak out
In Lusaka, the capital city, some voters were going back home, choosing to return later as they could not find parking spaces at some polling stations.
At Munali secondary school where one of the MakanDay journalists voted from, cars stretched several metes into the Great East Road.
Lutangu Sinongi, a voter in the impoverished town of Mongu, Western Province said he left home last night at 24hrs last to go and cast his vote only to find other voters already in the queue for the polls which opened at 06hrs today.
“It seems the vote attracted many people, because at 24hrs I thought I was the earliest, but I found over 700 other voters who slept there, with blankets and their children,” he told Liseli, a local radio station in Mongu.
“I was shocked, I don’t know where this desire is coming from… I think most people want to see improvement in their lives,” he added.
At Chipata Trades in Eastern Province, a visually impaired voter said he had to abandon the braille jacket in preference for the ordinary way of voting because it was too complicated to use.
“I have been using braille(s) for years, but when the presiding officer handed me the jacket, I couldn’t use it, it is too complicated,” said the teacher who has asked to remain anonymous
The Hichilema factor
Hichilema (58) has over the years emerged as Lungu’s strongest contender.
Addressing his last press conference before the election in Lusaka on Wednesday 11 August, Hichilema, once a cattle herder who became an economist, said his party offered “hope, not falsehood”, and listed education, lowering the cost of living and job creation as some of his priorities.
Of the 16 candidates for the presidency, he is seen as the most likely to be able to deal with the worrying rise in the cost of living, unemployment, debt and mining reforms, following complaints from mining companies.
According to independent observers, Hichilema, a former managing partner in accounting firm Grant Thornton, is respected by business. He played a key role in the privatisation of the country’s mines. But he is excoriated by the trade unions.
Observers are keen to see how the new government will open up space for opposition parties and civil society groups. During campaigns, the opposition accused the ruling party of intimidation and harassment, as well as denying them their constitutional rights, such as free assembly using Covid-19 regulations.
In particular, they accused it of relying on the Public Order Act, colonial legislation that it used to deny the opposition the right to campaign freely.
Hichilema has been a victim of this law. He has been detained by police and prevented from campaigning in supposedly PF strongholds on many occasions for offences ranging from defaming the president to instigating violence.
Lungu is banking on his party’s huge investment in roads, airports, and new power generation to retain the seat.
The police have also disrupted UPND rallies and meetings. He has accused the government of using the law selectively to create an uneven political playing field.
Hichilema, a business mogul, sees a strong private sector as the foundation for tackling poverty and unemployment. He came second in the 2016 polls.
The UN is watching
The UN says the Secretary-General is closely following developments in Zambia ahead of the general elections scheduled on 12 August.
According to a statement issued today by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General: “The Secretary General is calling on all Zambians, notably all candidates and political party leaders, to do their part to create an environment conducive to credible, inclusive and peaceful elections”.
“The United Nations will continue to support the Government and the people of Zambia in achieving such an outcome,” he added.