Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichelema on Saturday took an early lead over President Edgar Lungu in the country’s closely contested presidential election, the electoral commission announced.
The August 12 poll turned into a two horse race between President Lungu (64) and Mr Hichelema, a rich businessman popularly known as HH.
Results announced on Saturday from 31 of the country‘s 156 constituencies showed the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader ahead with 449,699 votes against the president’s 266,202.
Some of the constituencies where Mr Hichelema was winning were considered to be strongholds of President Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF).
Final results, which were initially expected on Friday, have been delayed due to a high voter turnout.
Disagreements between the Zambia Electoral Commission and political parties over results in certain constituencies is also said to have contributed to the delay.
President Lungu, who has been in power since 2015, appealed for prayers on social media to stop speculations on the delays in the announcement of results.
“Let us continue praying for our nation, that the peace we have known for so many years will hold, and let us remain hopeful that we will emerge stronger and united as a people after this episode,” he tweeted.
The run-up to the elections to pick a new president and members of the National Assembly was marred by violence between UPND and PF supporters.
On Friday, the PF chairperson for the country’s North-Western Province was killed.
President Lungu said the elections had not been free and fair in the North-Western Province and some parts of Western and Southern provinces, raising concerns that he might not concede if he loses.
The government was also accused of shutting down social media on Friday.
President Lungu, who succeeded the late Michael Sata, served as Justice and Defence minister under the previous administration.
Under his leadership, the southern African country started choking from colossal debt, runaway inflation, corruption, and a weakening currency.
An Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goals Scorecard for Zambia released in July showed that “the country is experiencing worsening poverty, hunger, and economic and ethnic inequalities compared to five years ago.”
President Lungu’s government has also been accused of spending indiscipline at a time when the economy is suffering under the weight of a Covid-19 pandemic.