Heavy rain could not stop the Zambians as they turned out vote a replacement to their late President, Micheal Sata, who died last year in the office amid allegations of fraud and obstruction by leading opposition candidate.
They were claims that ballot boxes did not arrive strategic polling stations in the remote areas as the helicopters taking observers to the areas were said to have been blocked off. The claims was spearheaded by Hakinde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development Party.
He said: “Why are there no ballot papers in our strongholds, someone is scheming around. It’s fraud,” Mr Hichilema, a veteran candidate and millionaire cattle rancher known as HH, said after casting his ballot at a school in Lusaka’s affluent Kabulonga suburb.
There were also concerns that heavy downpours might hamper voter turnout. Elections in Zambia are normally held outside of the rainy season but the snap poll had to be held within 90 days of the passing of Mr Sata, an authoritarian known as King Cobra for his sharp tongue.
Zambia’s electoral commission said it would extend voting at polling stations that opened late past the 6pm cut-off. The leading parties are expecting the first indications of results around midnight but the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) warned that official results could be delayed by the rain.
Davies Chama, the Secretary General of Mr Sata’s ruling Patriotic Front party, which has fielded replacement candidate Edgar Lungu, 58, dismissed Mr Hichilema’s complaints, saying “logistical issues” had affected all political parties.
“Ballot papers haven’t arrived in wards that are our strongholds,” he said. “There’s no conspiracy, it’s not deliberate.”
He also rejected the suggestion by the UPND’s camp that its helicopters had been blocked from taking off by Zambia’s air force, which is controlled by Mr Lungu, who is at present defence and justice minister.
“We didn’t stop them flying around during the campaign, why would we do so now?” he said.
He said there was little doubt that PF would be granted its wish to complete its five-year term. “We are very confident, because of our campaign, the support we have, our feelers on the ground. By midnight we will know,” he said.
But at polling stations in the capital Lusaka, voters suggested the result might be close-run.
At Northmead Primary School, a stone’s throw from the national university, David Kasonde, 41, a businessman, said he had voted for Mr Hichilema, 52, who has pledged to rebuild Zambia’s economy. Zambia’s growth has been hampered by falling copper prices, its key commodity.
“I voted for the ruling party when it came into office in 2011 but I have been disappointed,” he said. “When the PF came into office three years ago, it promised so much but it hasn’t delivered. It was just new caps, but no new policies.”
Tembo Esther, 32, said she was attracted by Mr Hichilema’s pledge to offer free primary and secondary education and further study bursaries to the country’s poorest. “I wanted to be a nurse but I had to stop my education at 18 because my parents couldn’t afford it,” said Miss Esther, an unemployed mother-of-two. “I don’t want the same to happen to my children.”
In Gardens Compound, a township near Lusaka’s main sewage works, the UPND’s election agent Edwin Mabezere, 39, said his party was headed for victory. “The PF have built their confidence on past history from 2011,” he said. “Then, they were being judged on their promises, now they’re being judged on their performance and it’s not good.”
But Christina Phiri, 48, a roadside fish seller, did not agree. “They’re doing well and they deserve a chance to finish with their programmes,” she said.
“It took many elections for the PF to win power and when Mr Sata came in, we got roads, schools and hospitals,” he said. “We want continuity and peace and must not be denied.”
Most voters believed peace will only be guaranteed if the Patriotic Front is returned to office. “I think the chances of peace are 50/50,” said Nawina, 28, a teacher. “If the UPND wins, I think the PF might not agree with that.”