Zambian opposition leader Hichilema heads closer to victory in presidential vote

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Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was heading closer to victory in Zambia’s presidential election as votes counted by Sunday evening gave him a healthy lead over incumbent Edgar Lungu.

Zambia’s electoral commission said that votes had been counted in 82% of the 156 constituencies after the August 12 election. Hichilema had so far secured 2 324,847 votes while Lungu was in second place with 1 464 681 votes, out of seven million registered voters.

If the trend continues Hichilema, 59, could be declared an outright winner later on Sunday or on Monday if he secures 50.1% of the total vote, avoiding a second round run-off.

The election has been marred by sporadic violence and Hichilema, a former CEO at an accounting firm before entering politics, would face a daunting task turning around the economic fortunes of one of the world’s poorest countries.

Lungu said on Saturday that the election was “not free and fair” after incidents of violence against ruling Patriotic Front party agents in three provinces, and the party was consulting on its next course of action.

Hichilema, who has been leading since the first results were announced on Saturday, seeks to reverse a narrow loss in the 2016 presidential election against Lungu who is seeking a second five-year term.

The COVID-19 pandemic, significant youth unemployment, falling copper prices from Zambia’s mainstay export commodity and unsustainable fiscal policies have led to growing public discontent with Lungu.

Generally agreed support for Zambia from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is on hold until after the vote, as is a debt restructuring plan seen as an early test for a new global plan aimed at easing the burden of poor countries.