More than 6.7 million Zambians, representing 80% of the country’s adult population, are on Thursday particpating in what is projected to be the mining-rich but relatively poor country’s fiercest elections in over half a century.
Voting will be for the president, legislators, mayors, and also include a referendum on the Bill of Rights.
Nine hopefuls are contesting the presidency, but it is set to be a two-man race between incumbent Edgar Lungu and challenger Hakainde Hichilema.
Lungu enjoys support mainly in his home area of Ndola, the capital Lusaka, and the Copperbelt, while his rival has a stronghold in the south.
Clashes between Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) of Hichilema have soiled the country’s image as a model of democracy after years of incident-free elections since 1991 and the advent of multi-party democracy.
Rival parties have traded accusations of violence. The opposition has accused the PF of plans to rig the vote, while it in turn has retorted, accusing the UPND of carrying out its “Operation Watermelon” to create tension in the country.
In late July, police arrested Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, the UPND vice president, along with more than 20 party officials for alleged plans to start a private militia. Police raided Mwamba’s house and found petrol bombs, machetes and spears. The opposition denied the charges and said that the weapons were planted there after the arrest.
The country’s most popular daily, The Post, was in June closed over tax evasion charges.
In addition, printing of the ballot papers by a firm in Dubai raised suspicion, as previously all ballot papers had been printed in South Africa.
A second round of polling is anticipated if none of the candidates secures 50% of the vote in the former British colony of more than 15 million people.