Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
Zambia held its constitutional presidential and parliamentary elections on Thursday, 12 August 2021. The country witnessed long queues of voters who got to polling stations as early as three hours before the stations opened at 06 hours.
A two-horse race
The long queues that snaked the voting centres and huge crowds that included numerous first-time young voters were reminiscent only of the 1991 historic election when Zambia returned to multiparty politics. Evidently the turn-out demonstrated the people’s wish to make their choices recorded. The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic did not in any way discourage the massive gatherings.
Although there were 16 presidential candidates, the elections were in fact a two-horse race between the incumbent President Edgar Chagwa Lungu leader of the Patriotic Front (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND). And the elections were remarkably heavily contested.
To garner necessary support during the elections, the UPND went into an alliance as it had previously done in 2008 with a number of political parties, and this time with the Alliance for Development and Democracy (ADD), Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
One of the biggest electoral victories in Zambia's history.
Declaring Hichilema winner, Electoral Commission of Zambia Chairperson Justice Essau Chulu, said Hichilema polled 2,810,777 against Lungu’s 1,814,201. The tally was valid votes cast at 155 out of 156 polling stations country-wide. And Chulu considered votes expected from the last polling stations as insignificant to drastically change the final result. Supporters celebrated throughout the night. It is one of the biggest electoral victories in Zambia's history.
For Hichilema this was the sixth attempt at the becoming the country’s president, having lost five times previously, since 2008.
By polling more than 50% of the five million votes cast, Hichilema met the constitutional threshold for an outright win, therefore a re-run vote did not arise. There were seven million officially registered voters.
The conduct of this year’s elections, were as in the past, monitored and observed by the European Union, African Union as well as local monitors and observers.
Outgoing President Lungu and abuse of incumbency
On Saturday, President Lungu released a statement stating that the elections were “not free and fair” due to violence in some parts of the country. The statement received a sharp rebuke from the other losing presidents who said it was in fact Lungu who had used Covid-19 restrictions to block them from holding campaign rallies, while he and his Vice President, the running mate, campaigned freely. Other political analysts said Lungu was deliberately exaggerating the violence in opposition strongholds. A European Union preliminary report also stated that Lungu abused his position of incumbency to tilt the election in his favour.
The daunting tasks ahead
President elect Hichilema faces a daunting task of turning round Zambia’s economy. Zambia is currently one of Africa’s highly indebted countries. The Covid-19 pandemic worsened what was already a difficult period for Zambians. In one telling moment, a young unemployed university graduate turned up to vote in a graduation gown. UPND marketed itself on the ticket of strict adherence to the rule of law, tackling high incidence of corruption in the public sector, reducing unemployment, respect for public institutions and making sundry over-ambitious 200-day result promises.
Hichilema the man
Hichilema,59, popularly known as “HH” is a self-made successful millionaire businessman. In 1986, Hichilema obtained a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Zambia on a government bursary. Later, he pursued an MBA in Finance and Business Strategy from the University of Birmingham, UK.
Hichilema has worked as the local CEO of and international accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand, later renamed Grant Thornton, from 1998 to 2006. He has been chairman and member of several companies in Zambia. Today, Hichilema is said to be the second biggest cattle rancher in Zambia and thus one of the biggest suppliers of meat to the local Zambian market.
Zambia’s seventh President is a dedicated married man with three children. Hichilema is a Seventh Day Adventist believer, who has pledged to uphold Zambia as a Christian Nation.