ZAMBIANS were no closer to knowing who will be their sixth president, as vote counting stretched into a third day in a race that has left the two frontrunners neck and neck.
Ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party candidate Edgar Lungu maintained his lead with 48.8% of the vote, while main challenger Hichilema Hakainde of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), who has narrowed the gap, had polled 46.7% of the vote, with 111 of 150 constituencies reporting.
Eleven candidates are running, with final results from the Electoral Commission of Zambia expected on Saturday.
Observers have widely praised the poll as free and fair.
The tight nature of the race has seen some tensions within the parties raised, with former president Kenneth Kaunda calling for continued calm and for the country to maintain stability and set the stage for its next 50 years.
Zambia last October celebrated its 50th annivesary of independence.
The next president will serve out the term of president Michael Sata who died in office a few days after those celebrations; the second president to die in power after Levy Mwanawasa who died in 2008.
Zambian businesses remain anxious about a smooth outcome, but do not expect major differences in economic policy, although Hichilema, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, has pledged to revise a controversial new law that tripled mining royalties, and came into effect on January 1.
Copper is the mainstay of Zambia’s economy, accounting for the majority of its foreign exchange earnings.
The tight nature of the race will have surprised many, with the ruling party expected to have made the most of its advantage of incumbency, a major factor in elections in Africa.
But initial infighting following the death of Sata now seems to have weakened its campaign, opening the door for Hichilema, who is thought to enjoy the backing of pro-business constituencies at home and abroad.
This is Hichilema’s fourth stab at the presidency, with the election painted as being a choice between change and continuity.
Lungu, who has said he will continue Sata’s pro-poor policies, drew fire for offering few new ideas of his own and looking to benefit from sympathy votes.
However voter turnout remained low, at about 35%, with inclement weather and election fatigue blamed, among other factors.
The last voting stations cast their votes at 0200hours on Friday, with the country’s air force expect to mop up those ballots.
The role of the military has seen concerns raised, given that Lungu is also minster for the two portfolios of defence and justice.
This is the seventh election since the advent of multiparty democracy in the southern African country.
Those elections have seen peaceful handovers of power, helping build the country’s reputation for stability and attract foreign investors.
The streets have remained calm with business as usual, and a successful election will help further burnish that standing.. .