Zambia's incumbent President Edgar Lungu has defeated his main rival Hakainde Hichilema, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has said, in a closely fought presidential election marred by allegations of fraud.

Lungu, leader of the Patriotic Front (PF), won 50.35 percent of the vote against 47.67 percent for Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), the commission said on Monday.

The opposition party quickly rejected the result, claiming the electoral commission had colluded to rig the vote against its candidate.

"We have evidence to the effect that the votes for Hakainde Hichilema have been deliberately reduced in collusion with the Electoral Commission of Zambia," the UPND's lawyer Jack Mwiimbu told journalists, according to the Reuters news agency.

"We have confidence that the constitutional court will rise above board and declare the results a nullity," he said.

Results expected in Zambian elections marred by pre-vote violence

Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Lusaka, said Hichilema had raised many issues about the campaign period and vote counting "that he has really been able to cast a lot of doubt over the process."

"Some of that has been supported by international observer missions, most particularly the European Union, which agreed with his claims that the state media is heavily biased towards the government and so he was never, and nor were any of the opposition candidates, really given a level playing field and ability to, sort of, inform the voting public," Page said.

The EU also supported Hichilema’s view that police had acted with political motivates at times and that his campaigning was blocked and police had also cracked down quite harshly on some of his political gatherings.

"That in large part is supported by what independent international observers had said in their preliminary reports. He also placed a lot of emphasis over the counting process here and this is also something that some of the observer were wary about," Page said.

The opposition has now launched their challenge to the result and will appear in court later in the week.

"So opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema really outraged and bitterly disappointed. This is the fifth time he has lost a presidential election and by quite a close margin too – about 100,000 – so they are going to try and block, in court, the inauguration of President Edgar Lungu, which is supposed to happen in about a week and they want the Lusaka vote recounted," she said.  

Narrow margin

Lungu has been in office for just 19 months after he first took power last year when he beat Hichilema by less than 28,000 votes in a snap election following the death in office of president Michael Sata. 

His re-election will see him remain in power for another five-year term.

"We are going to petition this election in court, it was full of irregularities, malpractices and vote stealing," Brian Mwiinga, spokesperson for Hichilema's UPND, told Al Jazeera.

"The narrow margin that the electoral commission claims Lungu won by is not legitimate and because it is such a small percentage it shows that it does not reflect the will of the people, instead it simply tells us the story that the election was stolen," he said.

Electoral Commission of Zambia spokesperson Chris Akufuna declined to comment on the disputed result, but urged aggrieved parties to submit complaints in writing. 

Several flaws in the election process made it difficult to accept that it was a fair victory, said Gilles Kasongo of the Zambia Election Information Centre, a coalition of civil society organisations focusing on governance and electoral procedure.

"There are strong concerns in the electoral commission's handling of matters concerning results and these should be taken up in the courts by political parties," Kasongo said, adding that the use of of public funds to finance the ruling party's campaign means the victory "cannot be seen as a just win".

Despite the controversy, supporters of the newly-elected president celebrated in Lusaka, honking car horns and playing loud music. 

Emanuel Phiri, 48, a taxi driver, said he believed Lungu was the popular choice of the Zambian people. 

"Lungu really worked hard for this and God has made it possible," he told Al Jazeera.


Additional reporting by Tendai Marima in Lusaka. Follow Tendai on Twitter @i_amten.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies