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Zambia : Polling stations closed, top two presidential hopefuls confident

By Tajuddin
Aug 11th, 2016
Patriotic Front (PF) Presidential candidate Edgar Lungu and his wife Esther Lungu leave a rally in Lusaka January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File

Patriotic Front (PF) Presidential candidate Edgar Lungu and his wife Esther Lungu leave a rally in Lusaka January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File

Lusaka, Zambia ( Reuters + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Polling stations closed in Zambia on Thursday with the top two presidential candidates both confident of victory in what is expected to be a close race that may run to a second round.

President Edgar Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) has been hit by splits and defections to its main rival, Hakainde Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND), and, with nine candidates standing, neither may get more than half of the vote.

Rising unemployment, mine closures, power shortages and soaring food prices have fed discontent as Africa’s No. 2 copper producer feels the bite of weak commodity prices, and supporters of the two main parties have clashed during the campaign.

Voting got off to a slow start in some places but long queues built up during the day to cast ballots in presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

Police were forced to step in to control restive crowds but there were however no reports of violence.

“We’ve turned out to cast our votes in large numbers because that’s our right, to ensure that our future and that of our children is protected,” said Robinson Mwanza, 30, a construction worker who said he was backing Lungu.

Ballot counting had begun although the electoral commission said it would be hours before results started trickling in and it aims to have final results by Saturday night.

Some polling stations stayed open for those queueing before the 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) cut-off.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a second round between the top two must be held within 37 days.

“I am voting for HH because I am very confident that he is going to turn around the economy,” said 42-year-old trader Sungwe Siame, referring to Hichilema by his nickname.

Economist-turned-businessman Hichilema says Lungu, a former lawyer, lacks the expertise to manage the economy.

“The difference between PF and UPND is what we bring to the table, knowledge of the financial markets and economics,” he said on Wednesday.

Lungu says the downturn was beyond his control and that his government is working to diversify the economy from copper.

“I have been on probation for one year, six months and I think I have done very well. I promise to serve you even better,” Lungu said at his final rally.

Lungu insists the playing field has been level but Hichilema denies this as police blocked several of his rallies.

“The probability of a contested election result is growing, which would undermine the credibility of the vote,” EXX Africa think-tank head, Robert Besseling, said.

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