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Zambian opposition leader Hichilema declared winner of presidential election

Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu in Zambia’s presidential election, the electoral commission said on Monday when releasing the final results from 156 constituencies, barring one.

In the final tally, Hichilema secured 2,810,777 votes while Lungu was in second place with 1,814,201 votes, out of 7 million registered voters.

“I therefore declare that the said Hichilema to be president of Zambia,” said electoral commission chairman, Esau Chulu, to a packed results centre in the capital Lusaka.

The massive win meant Hichilema does not have to contest any second round run-offs after meeting the constitutional 50.1% threshold for an outright winner.

The election has been marred by sporadic violence and Hichilema, a former CEO at an accounting firm before entering politics, would face a daunting task turning around the economic fortunes of one of the world’s poorest countries.

Investors are closely watching the election in Africa’s second biggest copper producer, which made the continent’s first pandemic-era sovereign default in November.

Lungu said on Saturday that the election was “not free and fair” after incidents of violence against ruling Patriotic Front party agents in three provinces, and the party was consulting on its next course of action.

Officials from Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) party dismissed Lungu’s statement as emanating from people “trying to throw out the entire election just to cling on to their jobs.”

In terms of the law, if Lungu wants to settle a dispute or nullify elections, he must approach the Constitutional Court within seven days to lodge a complaint after a winner is announced.

Hichilema, who has been leading a mainly two-horse race since the first results were announced on Saturday, seeks to reverse a narrow loss in the 2016 presidential election against Lungu, 64, who was seeking a second five-year term.

The Covid-19 pandemic, significant youth unemployment, falling copper prices from Zambia’s mainstay export commodity and unsustainable fiscal policies have led to growing public discontent with Lungu.

Generally agreed support for Zambia from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is on hold until after the vote, as is a debt restructuring plan seen as an early test for a new global plan aimed at easing the burden of poor countries.

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