Lungu, 64 and in power since 2015, faces a potentially tight contest against Hichilema – known as “HH” – a businessman who has criticised the president’s management of an economy in turmoil.
Investors are closely watching the outcome of Thursday’s election with the southern African country highly indebted and also suffered the continent’s first pandemic-era sovereign default in November.
Results from 15 of the country’s 156 constituencies gave Hichilema 171,604 votes versus the 110,178 garnered by Lungu, who is running for a second five-year term.
Those 15 constituencies include perceived Lungu strongholds, suggesting that Hichilema has gained ground since the last elections in 2016, when he lost by a slim margin in elections marred by allegations of rigging.
The first results had initially been expected on Friday. They were delayed after counting went on overnight due to heavy voter turnout and because political parties objected to the electoral commission’s initial figures in one constituency, which differed with those from monitors on the ground.
An estimated 7 million people registered to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections in the country, Africa’s second biggest copper producer.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia allowed the last polling station to remain open until 5 a.m. on Friday to give people who had queued for hours an opportunity to cast their ballots. The election also saw violence in three regions and restrictions on internet access.