It took four days to find Zambia’s new president – Edgar Lungu – in an election marked by peaceful voting but tumultuous counting.
A total of 9 candidates took part in the election, but everyone knew that only two of them, namely Edgar Lungu (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema (UPND), stood a chance. And, as predicted, the election became a two-horse race, with no one being able to fully predict the result until the end.
Most of the 7,700 polling stations across the country opened at 06:00 on 11 August, but in many places voters started queuing around 04:00, as it became clear that people were turning out in high numbers. Voting was supposed to end at 18:00, but the late delivery of election materials caused by “terrain challenges” delayed the opening of some polling stations to as late as 16:00. Voting was officially over at 02:00 on 12 August, when Kaningwa in Kazungula, Southern Province, and Namabunga in Nalolo, Western Province, closed.
Lungu voted at Andrew Mwenya polling station in Chawama (picture right, top) and Hichilema at Kabulonga Boys polling station in Kabulonga (picture right, bottom), both in Lusaka, while a third presidential candidate, Tilyenji Kaunda (UNIP) failed to vote, as he had lost his National Registration Card (NRC).
After hard-fought campaigns, marred by “unprecedented” violence, involving at least 50 reported incidents of electoral violence between January and July, with at least 3 people killed, the voting was “calm and peaceful”, in the words of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
Election declared ‘free and fair’
Voters were presented with the most complex poll ever, due to the recent amendment of the Constitution. They were each given five ballot papers, having to choose a new president (orange ballot), MPs (red), mayors (purple – new), councillors (black) and vote on whether or not to approve a new Bill of Rights (tan – extraordinary to this election).
One major mishap was the quality of the official ECZ stamp on the back of ballot papers, as the ink was apparently too feint on some ballots, and officials thus had to write ‘official’ and/or re-stamp them, to minimise the number of rejected ballots.
ECZ also had to postpone voting in 5 wards where candidates’ details had been transposed, including Kanyala and Mpungu Ward in Isoka, Muchinga Province; Miengwe Ward in Kafulafuta, Copperbelt Province; Mumbwe Ward in Chipili, Luapula Province; and Keembe Ward in Keembe, Central Province.
Nevertheless, most international observers declared the elections generally free and fair. The observers stated that the elections had been peaceful, but that the electoral process had been marred by biased coverage in state media and the unfair manner in which the police administered the Public Order Act to block the opposition.
The foreign observer missions came from the AU, SADC, COMESA, Commonwealth, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Carter Centre, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and the European Union, but the latter did not use the term ‘free and fair’ in its preliminary statement. Instead it expressed concern over not having been granted access to the National Results Centre (picture) at Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka. It is worth nothing that the ECZ is not fully independent of government.
The first results
Before the elections the ECZ declared that the final results would be announced within 48 hours of polling stations closing, but this slipped away as the commission explained that the delays were due to the complexity of the counting process given the large number of ballots and the high voter turnout.
In fact, it took 24 hours before the ECZ could release the first results at 19:00 on 12 August. Then, with 3 out of 156 constituencies counted, Lungu was in the lead, but by midnight on 12 August, based on the results of 8 constituencies, HH was leading.
However, by then HH had already accused government of vote-rigging: “The ECZ is somehow conniving with people in the political arena to delay the release of results so that PF thugs armed with guns take over the polling stations at night and write fake results,” he told the media, adding: “They are trying to generate the results”.
Meanwhile, on 12 August, police arrested Chavuma Samuel at the National Results Centre at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka. Details were confusing, but the UPND accused Samuel, who apparently has links to PF Deputy Chairman for Elections Kelvin Fube Bwalya, of having fiddled with election results in the server room. Samuel was later released.
When UPND-friendly lawyer Martha Mushipe lost her temper over Samuel at the next announcement of results on 13 August, and demanded that ECZ Director Priscilla Isaacs and two other officials should step down for helping the PF to rig the elections, it became too much for the ECZ, which banned all questions at future announcements of results, causing even more furore. Mushipe was also upset about missing G12 documents, namely a results form for a polling station that allegedly is supposed to be signed by all political party agents present.
Later on 13 August, the High Court turned down a UPND request to halt the release of election results, until ECZ suspended three officials – Priscilla Isaacs, Deputy IT Director Brown Kasaro and IT Specialist Theresa Phiri. The court instead scheduled an inter-party hearing for 17 August.
FDD complains as well
While UPND was making noise, Lungu crept back into the lead, based on the results of 29 constituencies, but after 42 constituencies, tables had turned again, placing HH on top, and he remained there until the results of 69 constituencies were announced on 14 August.
Now, however, the UPND was livid. Following a meeting with the ECZ, the latter apparently agreed to a recount of ballots in the urban constituencies of Lusaka Province, but later changed its mind. The UPND referred to the missing G12 forms, and highlighted several incidents of irregularities, including more votes being cast than there were voters registered, pre-marked ballot papers found in a van outside Zambia Air Force, intimidation of UPND polling agents, and results being binned, quite literally, at the totalling centre in Kanyama Constituency in Lusaka, reducing UPND votes from 32,024 to 17,985. The police later apprehended Noel Mbao, the presiding officer at Chinika School polling station in Kanyama. Thus, UPND temporarily withdrew all its verification agents from the National Results Centre to show its displeasure.
PF Secretary General Davies Chama was not impressed. He accused the UPND of holding the country to ransom, by questioning every result in areas where it has lost, while the PF is not questioning results where it has lost. Meanwhile, President Lungu went to church, travelling incognito to a service at Eastgate Revival Centre in Bauleni Township in Lusaka, where he declared that he would accept any result.
Then another presidential candidate, Edith Nawakwi (FDD), joined the debate. She wondered why her family had not voted for her: “Are you telling me that even in Mwenzo, where I was born, where my father lives, I can get zero votes? In Mungwi, where during a recent by-election we had a decent haulage of results, can we get zero? Even in Munali, where we have structures, do you think we can get zero? Where have all these people evaporated to? (…) so I do not think the results are a true reflection of what is going on,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, the results of 90, then 114 and finally 134 constituencies were announced on 15 August, keeping Lungu in the lead, and taking Zambia into a fourth day after the elections. In the 2015 presidential by-election, which was held in January at the height of the rainy season, and caused all sorts of complications, including voting stretching into several days, the final results were announced on the fourth day after elections.
Despite this being the fifth election in 10 years, due to Presidents Mwanawasa and Sata passing away in office in 2008 and 2014, respectively, and despite the low turnout of 32.4% in the last one in January 2015, many Zambians cast their votes in this election, and now they all waited with a baited breath.
Finally, just after 13:00 on 15 August, ECZ declared incumbent President Edgar Lungu the winner: “I, honorable Justice Esau Chulu, being the returning officer for the election, declare Edgar Chagwa Lungu president-elect”. The whole country – or at least half of it – took to the streets to celebrate.