Zambian President Lungu claims elections 'not free and fair' as opposition candidate surges ahead

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema led by a wide margin with 40% of the votes counted.
  • President Edgar Lungu alleged electoral violence in three provinces, but opposition parties and observers dispute this.
  • Candidates from opposition parties urged Lungu to concede defeat.

As Zambians await the final vote tally, President Edgar Lungu has moved to cast doubt on the election.

Incumbent candidate Lungu is trailing opposition party candidate Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party National for Development. With 62 constituencies counted, 40% of the national total, the UPND had 1 024 212 votes, while the PF had 562 523, according to results from the Electoral Commission of Zambia late on Saturday.

READ | Zambia blocks WhatsApp as voters wait hours to cast their ballots in 'tense' election

Preliminary results put Hichilema ahead with 63% and Lungu with 34.6%, according to independent analysis group Democracy in Africa. Voter turnout had also increased by 15% from the last election to 72%.

'Not free and fair'

Earlier in the day as results trickled in, Lungu released a statement declaring the election "not free and fair", Lungu's office alleged violence in the Southern, North-Western and Western Provinces, "rendering the whole exercise a nullity".

"The President said Patriotic Front polling agents were brutalised and chased from polling stations, a situation that left the ruling party's vote unprotected in the three provinces," the statement said.

Lungu criticised the continued vote counting, despite his protestations.

"How can the elections be fair when people have been murdered and many others are in hiding after being brutalised. Is that democracy?" Lungu asked in the statement.

"We have written to the Electoral Commission of Zambia, but they have continued announcing the results. So we are consulting on the next decision we have to make," the president added.

The UPND dismissed the ruling party’s allegations as a "desperate final act of an outgoing administration".

"The other side clearly know they have lost and are trying to throw out the entire election just to cling on to their jobs," the party said in a statement.

Independent institutions

Despite Lungu's claims, the Electoral Commission of Zambia continued to count the votes, resisting pressure from the president's office, seeming to signal Lungu's weakened position.

The election has not been without incident, with the murder of the Patriotic Front chairperson Jackson Kungo in the North-Western Province. Another man, the brother of the party’s provincial deputy permanent secretary, was also killed, Lungu said in a statement on Thursday. The details of the killings were not immediately clear and violence did not spread to other regions.

"Those two deaths in North-Western Province have been pinned on the UPND. Many suspect it may have been mob justice, which was a result of  heightened tensions and political suspicions," said Nicole Beardsworth, a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand who has spent the last month in Lusaka tracking the election.

"The kind of narrative that comes from the PF that this was a coordinated campaign just doesn't ring true," she added.

Independent local observers, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group, also contradicted Lungu’s claims. A preliminary report showed no evidence of party candidates expelled from polling stations, as the president had claimed.

The Law Association of Zambia criticised Lungu's bid to slow the vote count, adding that only the courts had the power to nullify the election.

While the incumbent government has been accused of using the military to crack down on opposition parties, Lungu trailing in the results will likely further reduce his influence over the security forces. In previous elections, such as 2011, the Zambian military refused to endorse unconstitutional actions.

"There are good reasons to think that they would do the same again, especially if the public is not behind Lungu and at this point, that's looking quite clear," said Beardsworth.

Calls to concede

As Hichilema's victory seemed inevitable, candidates from minority parties began to concede. They urged Lungu to do the same.

Six candidates from Zambia's smaller opposition urged Lungu to concede defeat, releasing a joint statement in response to his claims.

Former deputy president and candidate for the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy Nevers Mumba; former newspaper editor and leader of the Socialist Party, Fred M’Membe; Harry Kalaba of the Democratic Party; United National Independence Party candidate Anglican Bishop Trevor Mwamba; Chishala Kateka of the Heritage Party; and Sean Tembo of the Patriots for Economic Progress, all signed the letter addressed to Lungu.

READ | Zambians head to the polls in election overshadowed by Covid-19

The candidates lambasted Lungu for using Zambia's Public Order Act, the police and Covid-19 regulations to limit opposition campaigning in the run-up to the election. 

"We all have had our movements across the country restricted during the campaign period at your behest," they said.

"It is therefore inconceivable that the very government that created an uneven playing field can today want to delay the election process by seeking to take the legal process in a bid to delay the announcement of election results," the six politicians said.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

Did you know you can listen to articles? Subscribe to News24 for access to this exciting feature and more.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Voting Booth
What do you think about the SA government investigating Chinese online fashion retailer Shein over its business practices?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It’s a waste of resources that should go to local trade
30% - 1390 votes
I think Shein is being unfairly targeted
10% - 460 votes
Dig up the dirt! We must look out for SA retailers
43% - 2011 votes
I don’t mind, as long as the customer doesn’t suffer
18% - 821 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.