Electoral officials in Zambia has commenced vote counting following the successful staging of the southern African nation’s general elections.
After 12 hours of voting, polling stations started closing at 6 pm (1600 GMT), though several hundreds still in queues were being allowed to cast their ballots.
Some voters complained about the slow pace of voting in an election that is seen as a test of Zambia’s democracy.
President Edgar Lungu deployed more troops in parts of the country to quell election violence in the tightly contested polls pitting him against long-time rival Hakainde Hichilema. There was also a partial internet restriction.
Lungu said election-day violence had killed two people — including the chairman of his party in North-Western province.
In a statement, he said he had directed the army commander “to quickly re-enforce security in North-Western, some parts of Western, and Southern provinces where this unprecedented violence is taking place”.
“I will not take kindly to these evil schemes,” he vowed. “How can you talk about free and fair elections when our opponents have taken this election as war?” he said.
The troop deployment was just a “distraction”, opposition United Party for National Development spokesman Anthony Bwalya told AFP.
Sixteen candidates were vying for the top job, but the frontrunners are Lungu, 64, and business tycoon Hichilema, who are facing off at the polls for the third time and who between the two of them garnered almost 98 per cent of the votes in the 2016 election.
It is Hichilema’s sixth attempt at the presidency.
“We are confident that we will carry the day,” he said after voting at a secondary school in a leafy suburb of Lusaka. “People want change — you can see it in their faces,” he told reporters.
Addressing opposition fears of fraud, Hichilema said Zambia’s next leader “must be determined by the… voters, not the people who count the votes”.
A flagging economy and rising living costs have eroded Lungu’s support base in recent years, surveys suggest.
Lungu is accused of borrowing unsustainably, particularly from Chinese creditors, to finance a spree of infrastructure projects.
Under his administration, Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt since the coronavirus pandemic began, while inflation soared to more than 20 per cent.
Lungu’s critics point to poverty and joblessness in the midst of glittering infrastructure.
Around seven million citizens were eligible to vote for a president, legislators and local government representatives.
The winning candidate must acquire more than 50 per cent of votes to avoid a second-round runoff. Official results were expected by Sunday.