Zambians began voting for a new president and legislators on Thursday in what is expected to largely be a two-horse race between President Edgar Lungu and his main rival, Mr Hakainde Hichilema.
President Lungu and Mr Hichilema have both said they are confident of outright victory, but if either of them fails to garner more than half of the vote as required by electoral law, a second round will become necessary.
Voting got off to an anxious start at 6 a.m. at one polling station in the capital, Lusaka, with police stepping in to control a few restive people waiting in a long queue that stretched almost half way around the block.
“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 had joined the line at 4 a.m.
Close by, a group of men huddled around a small fire to try and ward off the morning chill.
On Wednesday, President Lungu and Mr Hichilema made their final plea for votes in Lusaka, each pledging to steer the economy onto firmer footing.
“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,” President Lungu told thousands of supporters at his final rally, referring to last year’s vote to replace late President Michael Sata.
“And I promise to respect the results and I will not fight even one day, to remain in State House. But I will not allow somebody to come to State House (through) violence or intimidation,” he added.
Supporters of President Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and Mr Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) have clashed in the run-up to the poll, forcing the electoral commission to suspend campaigning at one point. – Reuters-SMR