Zambians vote in tight presidential election

Close contest expected between ruling party and opposition candidates after death of Michael Sata in office last year.

Lungu's Patriotic Front has been damaged by infighting, but says it is confident of winning the election [AFP]

Polling stations have opened in Zambia’s tightly contested presidential vote amid accusations of intimidation from the main opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema.

The two frontrunners are the ruling Patriotic Front’s Edgar Lungu, and Hichilema, candidate of the United Party for National Development.

A close contest is expected, with the Patriotic Front having experienced infighting after the death of President Michael Sata three years into his five-year term.

Zambia has had five presidents since its independence from Britain in 1964. Two have died in office.

The winner of the election will serve the remaining 19 months of Sata’s term. 

Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from a polling station in the capital, Lusaka, said voting appeared to be going well.

“Lines are getting longer and longer,” she said. “People are saying they want someone younger, someone who won’t die in office. They also want someone who will deal with unemployment, education and infastructure issues. 

There is a lot of violence perpetuated by the ruling party. They are moving around with pangas, dangerous weapons and attacking people.

by Hakainde Hichilema, United Party for National Development.candidate

“But most of all they hope whoever loses the election accepts the result.”

Opposition candidate Hichilema has promised change and investor-friendly policies that he says will create jobs. 

The Ruling Patriotic Front is promising continuity, to improve roads, facilities, and education and to create jobs.

Both parties say they want to improve the lives of poor Zambians in Africa’s second biggest copper producer. 

However, they disagree over the tax on mining companies introduced by the ruling party in January.

The Patriotic Front says that the mining companies make too much money and can expect more taxes.

The United Party for National Development says that such a tax is unpractical, and could prompt more mines to close – and as a result, more people could lose their jobs.  

Intimidation claims

Hichilema has accused the ruling party of intimidating voters.

“There is a lot of violence perpetuated by the ruling party. They are moving around with pangas, dangerous weapons and attacking people,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Lungu denied the accusations. 

“My message to him [Hichilema]and to those who support him, is please let’s have peace. I don’t want to be president over a destroyed nation on account of people’s ambition. Not a drop of blood should be spilled on account of one wanting to be leader,” he said. 

Analysts say the infighting experienced by the Patriotic Front after Sata’s death could damage its chances in the current election, but the party remains confident of victory.

“Some people were very disappointed when they saw their leaders squabble,” said Al Jazeera’s Mutasa.

“That being said, the ruling party still say they are confident of winning the election.”  

Source: Al Jazeera