Ballot counting in Zambia was under way Friday after voting ended in a hotly contested election that pitted President Edgar Lungu against his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, for the second times in 19 months. Less than 28,000 votes separated the two men when they contested a snap poll in January last year, after President Michael Sata died in office. While Lungu’s administration has improved the country’s road system and built new clinics and schools, a growth slump, soaring food prices and job losses on the nation’s copper mines have dented his chances of winning a full five-year term. The run-up to Thursday’s largely peaceful vote for the president as well as lawmakers, mayors and local councilors was marred by violence that claimed as many as six lives, threatening the country’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The ruling Patriotic Front and Hichilema’s United Party for National Development have blamed each other for the clashes.
“These elections will most likely go to a runoff,” Sinethemba Zonke, a political analyst at advisory firm africapractice in Johannesburg, said in by e-mail. “A runoff would lead to increased political tension on the ground and could result in violent skirmishes.”
Lungu and Hichilema, 54, were among nine candidates who ran for the presidency of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer. The new administration will have to try to revive an economy that’s growing at its slowest pace since 1998 due to power shortages and a slide in the price of copper, which accounts for more than 70 percent of export earnings. It also faces negotiating a bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund to help shore up the state’s coffers.