A massive turnout of voters characterised Zambia’s Thursday Presidential and general elections. Zambians braved COVID-19 with many describing the huge turn-up of mostly youthful and first-time voters as unprecedented in the country’s recent history despite the polls taking place in a tense environment characterised by the heavy presence of military personnel and pockets of violence in certain places.

It is also the first time that persons in lawful custody at correctional facilities across the country took part in voting. The prison vote is an important gain on Zambia’s human rights record after the courts upheld the right of inmates to vote.

Electoral Commission of Zambia spokesperson Patricia Luhanga described the voter turnout as unprecedented and announced that the results sharing framework and timelines would be stuck to and results will be announced within 72 hours after the close of the last polling station.

Announcement of results commenced at various polling stations Friday morning with UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema taking an early lead at various polling stations.

Access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter went down around midday as people shared live videos and pictures of the situation in their various locations. The platforms remain down but many netizens resorted to the use of VPN applications.

Leading local governance and electoral monitoring entity GEARS initiative demanded that government should restore access to the internet. GEARS Director Mcdonald Chipenzi said access to the internet was important for electoral transparency, accountability and integrity, further calling for the professional handling of the August 12 General Election result management stage.

Voting had to be extended late into the night in some polling stations including in Lusaka due to the high voter turnout to allow all persons who had waited for a long time to cast their ballot. Some youths were seen turning out to vote in their university graduation gowns sending a subtle message to the regime on the high levels of youth unemployment in the country.

Voting took place in a generally peaceful and calm environment with only a few sporadic incidences of violence with two deaths recorded in North-Western Zambia. The ruling Patriotic Front Provincial Chairperson Jackson Kungo died on his way to the hospital after he was beaten by an angry mob together with a brother of provincial Deputy Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Chihili on suspicion of attempts at vote-rigging.  The ECZ expressed shock at the accusations of pre-marked ballot papers because it was not possible to have pre-marked papers in Zambia.

President Edgar Lungu blamed the killings on the opposition UPND, describing the murder of Kungo as shocking. He was dismayed at what he described as mayhem in North Western, some parts of Western, and Southern provinces which he said had effectively rendered the elections in the three provinces not free and fair.

“How can you talk about free and fair elections when our opponents have taken this election as war?

Lungu has since directed the Army Commander to reinforce troops in the three provinces and not to leave any stone unturned in ensuring peace returns to the rest of the country.

“The job to arrest the killers lies with security officers. So, stay calm and do not retaliate. It hurts so bad but some killers have been arrested already, and the rest will be found,” the president said.

Acting spokesman of the UPND Alliance, Thabo Kawana, told reporters later that his party was not responsible for the gruesome killings.

He extended his condolences to the bereaved and urged police to further investigate the matter because reports from party informers on the ground indicated that Kungo and the brother of provincial Deputy Permanent Secretary Chihili could have been killed by fellow PF supporters.

Kawana also charged that the alliance had won the elections based on the voter turnout, which he argued was last witnessed three decades ago when the country voted against one-party rule. The Patriotic Front has announced that it would hold a press conference mid-morning Friday 13th August 2021.

Later in the evening, a report emerged that immediate past Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa who is contesting the parliamentary seat for Matero in Lusaka on the Patriotic Front ticket was stabbed in the waist by suspected UPND cadres while in George compound.

The former Matero lawmaker‘s bodyguard was also stabbed in the head. Sampa is reportedly receiving treatment at the University Teaching Hospital Hospital in Lusaka. Confirming the incident police spokesperson Mwata Katongo confirmed that six people have been arrested and that a pistol and machetes have been confiscated from them. There were also reports of shooting in Chilanga in Chilanga a town a few kilometres south of Lusaka with a house attacked.

The electoral violence occasioned by suspicions has worried civil society who welcomed the deployment of security personnel.

“The heightened suspicions and speculations must be avoided by all stakeholders and allow the monitors and political parties agents to perform their work and share the verified results and further not take law in their hands. To this end, GEARS Initiative appreciates the role played by security forces to maintain law and order during and after the voting and their conduct so far has been discreet and professional. The deployment of the Army to ensure security at polling stations and to the general public after the vote has helped to minimise overcrowding and in the maintenance of law and order during the counting of results especially in urban centres.“ GEARS Director Macdonald Chipenzi said.

The organisation said shrinking the electoral space during this critical or delicate stage of the Electoral cycle when citizens are anxiously want to hear the outcome of their electoral labour can undermine the credibility, transparency, accountability and ultimately integrity of the polls especially with unsubstantiated speculation and suspicions around result management.

Former President Rupiah Banda cast his vote and urged Zambians to maintain a peaceful atmosphere even when the results are announced.

Lungu, who is seeking a controversial third-term, cast his vote in Chawama township in Lusaka, where he is a former member of parliament. His former seat is being contested by his daughter Tasila who until now served as a local councillor in the same constituency. His rival, Hakainde Hichilema, also voted in Lusaka.

The other 14 candidates for the presidency also cast their ballots at various locations around the country.

The head of the African Union observer mission to Zambia and former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said the mission was encouraged with the high turnout of voters at monitored polling stations nationwide.

Koroma told reporters that it presented an indication of a peaceful and transparent outcome to the elections which should be accepted by all participants.

Cover Image courtesy of Smart Eagles