President Edgar Lungu was ahead of his main rival on Saturday in early counting from Zambia’s presidential election, but the main opposition said its count showed their candidate ahead and the vote may have been rigged. Lungu faces a stiff challenge from United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema, who accuses him of failing to steer the economy out of its slump after Africa’s second-largest copper producer was hit by weak commodity prices. He led with 262,149 votes against Hichilema’s 243,794 after 29 of the country’s 156 constituencies in Thursday’s voting had been collated, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) told a news conference also attended by political parties. Early results announced on Saturday from only eight constituencies had put Hichilema ahead. In a statement, the UPND said data from its own parallel counting system showed Hichilema beating Lungu “with a clear margin”, based on about 80 percent of votes counted.
Electoral officials have warned political parties against making such statements, but all parties have access to the raw voting data and may add up the results faster than the national commission.
The ECZ had hoped to have final results from the elections – in which Zambians also chose members of parliament, mayors and local councillors and decided on proposed constitutional changes – by early Sunday. Results were now expected later, officials said, without giving a time frame. The commission had earlier rejected UPND charges that some officials were working to manipulate results to the advantage of Lungu’s Patriotic Front.