LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s electoral commission said it would announce initial results on Friday in a close-fought election contest between President Edgar Lungu and Hakainde Hichilema, who accuses Lungu of mismanaging the economy.
Lungu narrowly beat Hichilema in a vote 20 months ago to fill the vacancy created by the death of president Michael Sata, and could be forced into a second-round rerun if he fails to win an outright majority this time.
Officials reported a high turnout on Thursday, when Zambians also voted for the vice president, members of parliament, councillors and in a referendum on changes to the constitution.
“We want to make sure that what we bring to you is factual and we can only come when we have received the results from all the polling stations in a constituency,” chief electoral officer Priscilla Isaac told a news conference.
“There is no deliberate delay. We are aware of the volume of work that has gone into counting ballots for five elections,” Isaac said, adding that the first batch of results would be announced at 1200 GMT.
During the election campaign, supporters of Lungu’s governing Patriotic Front clashed with those of Hichilema’s United Party for National Development, but there were no reports of violence on election day.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a second roundof voting between the two leading candidates must be held within 37 days.
“I think the electoral commission is just trying to do a good job. Obviously this is raising a lot of anxiety but I am still confident that Edgar Lungu will win,” said James Bulaya, a 40-year-old mechanic.
Susan Jere, who supports Hichilema, popularly referred to as “HH”, said she was certain after hearing unofficial results from some counting centres that her man would prevail.
“They can delay the announcement but it won’t change the outcome. Ultimately HH will be declared the winner,” the 22-year-old student said.
Hichilema, a businessman and an economist, says he is more qualified than Lungu, a former lawyer, to steer the economy out of its slump. Weak commodity prices have hit Africa’s second-largest copper producer, forcing it to seek support from the International Monetary Fund.
Lungu says he needs more time to diversify the economy from copper.
A tight result in the poll is widely expected and could fuel violence.
“It is the possibility of a second round and another four or five weeks of campaigning that raises additional fears of conflict,” NKC Africa analyst Gary van Staden said.
“But ... given that Zambia does have strong democratic institutions, that it has a strong and robust civil society and a people with a long history of peaceful engagement, there is reason to remain optimistic.”
The Electoral Commission of Zambia has said it anticipates the final results by late Saturday or early Sunday.
Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Roche