Early results from Zambia’s August 12, 2021 general election show President Edgar Lungu trailing his main opponent, businessman Mr Hakainde “HH” Hichilema.
The president said election officials from his party Patriotic Front had been chased from polling stations, leaving votes unprotected.
In response, Mr Hichilema said the statement was the “desperate final act of an outgoing administration”.
Mr Lungu, who is seeking a second term, also said that violence in provinces where he lost votes had rendered “the whole exercise a nullity”.
The party, he added, was considering its next course of action. Zambia’s electoral commission is yet to respond.
Violence had broken out in Southern province, North Western province and Western Province, the president’s statement said.
Mr Lungu referenced the killing of a Patriotic Front chairman in North Western province and of another young party activist in clashes earlier this month. When the deaths occurred, the president brought in army reinforcements.
European Union election observers said in a preliminary report that the vote was “marred by unequal campaign restrictions, restrictions on freedoms of assembly and movement, and abuse of incumbency”.
Social media and internet access was also shut down on Thursday. On Friday the High Court in Lusaka ruled that access to the internet should be fully restored.
The results of the election were initially expected on Friday.
However, the announcement was halted after some party election officials criticised the commission for trying to declare results that hadn’t yet been verified.
A candidate can dispute an election by filing a petition in the country’s Constitutional Court. This stops the winning candidate from exercising executive powers until the petition is heard in court.
With results tallied from 31 of the 156 constituencies, Hichilema had 449,699 votes to President Edgar Lungu’s 266,202, chief electoral officer Kryticous Nshindano said Saturday.
Some 731,936 total valid votes have been counted so far out of seven million registered voters. The partial count may not be an accurate indication of the final outcome, which is expected to be announced within three days.
Mr Lungu (64) narrowly beat Hichilema, 59, in the last two elections that the challenger’s United Party for National Development claimed were rigged.
Its legal challenge in 2016 was thrown out of Zambia’s Constitutional Court after the party’s lawyers ran out of time to make their case.
UPND spokesman Cornelius Mweetwa on Saturday forecast that Hichilema would win this year’s race in a landslide, and called on the Electoral Commission to speed up the counting of votes.
Patriotic Front secretary-general Mr Davies Mwila said in an interview that Lungu is still geared to win.
Still, Mr Lungu faces his toughest vote yet amid growing poverty and surging inflation.
The ruling party denied trying to rig the outcome and has blamed the opposition for the deaths of some supporters. Its leader in North-Western Province was killed Thursday.
Long queues Thursday at polling stations in Lusaka, the capital, suggest turnout could be much higher than in the previous two elections. In 2016, 58 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, while in a 2015 snap election, when Mr Lungu swept to power, it was less than one-third.
This time, turnout is estimated at 73.8 percent in the areas tallied so far, the highest in any national election for at least 30 years. – Agencies