Thursday’s election in Zambia is a tight two-horse race between the ruling Patriotic Front and the opposition UPND. President Edgar Lungu and his main challenger Hakainde Hichilema are both keen on avoiding a re-run.
It has been described as a historic but tense vote. For the first time in Zambia’s history, voters will have the opportunity to elect their president, vice president, members of parliament, councilors and also a chance to either vote yes or no to an amendment of the constitution in a referendum.
The two main political parties; the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) led by President Edgar Lungu and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) are scheduled to hold last minute rallies in the capital Lusaka on Wednesday as they both seek to woo voters on the eve of polling day.
The 2016 Zambia election has undoubtedly become one of the most contentious in the southern African nation. Just two days before the elections, violence broke out at a rally organized by President Lungu’s PF party. His supporters reportedly attacked UPND cadres in Mtendere, a low income settlement located in Lusaka.
The incident took place only a day after the head of the AU Observer Mission (AUEOM), former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, said Zambia’s political and electoral climate was conducive for elections to take place. However, Neo Simutanyi, a political analyst in the capital told DW that the conditions are far from being conducive.
“The political environment is tense and the people are fearful that there maybe an outbreak of violence,” Simutanyi said. According to him, the stakes in this year’s election are very high and that is the reason behind the upsurge in violence.
“There are also issues about the fairness and impartiality of the Zambian Electoral Commission, it has taken decisions that have not been acceptable to all the stakeholders,” Simutanyi added. He warned that there is still a controversy over the voters roll because there are concerns about foreign voters.
Confident of victory
Following the death of President Michael Sata, Edgar Lungu narrowly beat Hakainde Hichilema in the 2015 presidential by-election. Only 27,000 votes separated the winner and the loser. This time, both candidates have come out strongly and are confident of victory in the first round of voting.
Hichilema, popularly known as HH, enjoys strong support in the south where he scored nearly 90 percent of the vote in last year’s election. President Lungu on the other side has the north backing him. Observers however say it is difficult to clearly gauge which among the two candidates is a clear favorite because unlike in past elections, this time, there have been no polls conducted.
Several top members of PF have defected to UPND including former vice president Guy Scott, former First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa and Mulenga Sata, the son to late president Michael Sata. Scott and Sata were the founding members of the Patriotic Front but Scott fell out with Lungu after the death of Sata.
The other presidential candidate who could play a role in case of a re-run is Edith Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD). “She has positioned herself very well in Zambia’s political space and could play an important role in the event of a re-run,” Simutanyi said.