Voters in Zambia are casting their ballot in a tightly contested presidential race. The Electoral Commission of Zambia, religious leaders and security chiefs have urged for calm during and after the vote.
Scores of voters had already lined up by 4.am in the morning at Matero polling center, located in a densely populated area of the capital Lusaka. They braved the chilly morning for two hours before voting got underway at 6.am. Many of them told DW that so far things were going smoothly and that they were hoping that peace would prevail.
Chala Astons who was waiting to vote at the Lusaka Library polling center in the central business district told DW he was hoping for a peaceful vote. “The police presence also shows that the security that the police department promised is in full swing,” Astons said.
Another voter Patience Komeno said she was impressed that the voting exercise was going on smoothly and faster than she expected. “We thought since we are voting for so many things it may take some time but it’s okay,” Komeno said.
She was referring to the fact that Zambians are for the first time voting for president, vice president, mayors, councilors and in a referendum which may or may not alter the constitution. Jackson Musoka who was also waiting in line to vote said he was optimistic that there would be no clashes but he added that the government should have spent more time on educating people on the referendum. “Some people are blank on the referendum, if you are to ask 10 people from here (the queue), people don’t know what referendum is,” Musoka said.
Analysts say a run-off is likely unless there is a high turn-out of voters. Historically Zambians have not turned out in large numbers to vote but this election could be different with more than 1 million new registered voters, most of them young, expected to cast their votes.
This year’s election in Zambia has stirred emotions between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party of President Edgar Lungu and those of the United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema, popularly known as HH.
Supporters of both camps have clashed on several occasions. During the campaigns, one UPND supporter was killed by police but unconfirmed reports put the death toll of election related-violence at three across the country. The two parties have accused each other of being behind the unrest.
At some point, the Zambian Electoral Commission (ZEC) had to suspend campaigns in the capital Lusaka for 10 days as a means of easing tensions.
Asked about whether the elections will be free and fair, the head of the AU Observer Mission (AUEOM), former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said he was optimistic that the process would be satisfactory. But he also called on leaders to accept and respect the results. Apart from the AU observers, the EU has deployed more than 50 observers across Zambia to monitor the elections.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu has warned that his government will not tolerate any incidents of violence. Talking to the Vatican Radio, the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) appealed for calm and peace and called on voters to turn out in large numbers and pick a leader who they see as competent to lead Zambia.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia has given itself 48 hours to announce the results.