1 of 10 | Biggest events in 2016:

Zambians went to the polls on 11 August 2016 in the country’s most complex elections ever. While voting day itself was surprisingly peaceful, the same could not be said about the period before and after.

A total of 9 candidates took part in the presidential election, but everyone knew that it would be a tight race between only two of them – incumbent President Lungu (PF) and fifth-time contender Hakainde Hichilema (UPND).

Thus, the campaigns were hard-fought, marred by unprecedented violence, including at least 50 reported incidents of political aggression between January and July, and at least 3 people killed, according to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ). In addition, all international observers pointed out that there had been a systematic bias in favour of the PF in the state media, and that the opposition’s right to assembly had been hindered with the help of the Public Order Act.

There were also a lot of problems after voting. The ECZ explained that results were delayed due to the complexity of the polls – voters were given five ballot papers for four elections (president, MPs, councillors and mayors/chairpersons) and one constitutional referendum. However, there were also confirmed reports of ballots ending up in bins and missing results forms used for verification. In addition, a mysterious person with links to the ruling PF party was arrested in the server room at the National Results Centre, only to be released and never heard of again.

On 15 August, four days after the elections started, ECZ declared that Lungu had won with 1,860,877 votes (50.35% of valid votes cast) against Hichilema’s 1,760,347 votes (47.63%). In absolute terms, Lungu beat Hichilema by a comfortable margin of 100,530 votes, a lot more than in last year’s presidential by-election (27,757 votes).

In relative terms, however, it was a close call. For the first time, a presidential candidate had to secure more than 50% of the valid votes cast (3,695,710 votes in 2016), meaning that Lungu was only 13,022 votes above the 50%-threshold. Otherwise, Zambia would have seen a runoff between Lungu and Hichilema. This did raise questions about the 85,795 rejected votes, which represented 2.3% of total votes cast, the highest ever seen in Zambia.

Hichilema was definitely not impressed. His attempt at petitioning the presidential election was initially unsuccessful, but is still in court (see page 3). In the meantime, Lungu was sworn in on 13 September in a grand ceremony, attended by two heads of states, namely Ian Khama (Botswana) and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe).

President Lungu is Zambia’s sixth president (Kaunda, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, Banda, Sata and Lungu), leading the third political party in power (UNIP, MMD and PF).