Zambia suspends polling results
January 22, 2015, 8:59am
Zambia suspends polling results
LUSAKA - Zambian police fired tear gas yesterday to disperse about 100 supporters of the leading opposition candidate in a hotly-contested presidential election race after the announcement of results was suspended.
A number of Hakainde Hichilema's supporters in the United Party for National Development were arrested and bundled into a police van, an AFP correspondent saw.
They had been keeping a vigil outside a conference centre in Lusaka where the first batch of official results from Tuesday's vote was expected to be released.
But the electoral commission suspended the announcement of the results after extending the vote for a day because heavy rains had prevented polling officials from reaching some remote areas.
Police initially asked the supporters to disperse but one of them shouted back at the officers, who then drove them off with batons and tear gas.
Hichilema is seen as the main challenger to ruling Patriotic Front party candidate Edgar Lungu in the contest to replace former president Michael Sata, who died in office last October.
At stake is the remaining year and a half of Sata's five-year term in the copper-rich but impoverished southern African nation.
Announcing that voting would be extended, electoral officials said boats and ox-wagons would be deployed to get ballot papers to parts of the country hit by torrential rains.
A planned airlift of ballot papers and polling officers to remote villages was disrupted on Tuesday by thunderstorms which grounded flights.
Some 2 100 voters in dozens of polling stations were expected to finally be able to cast their ballots yesterday.
The extension of voting led to a suspension of the release of early results.
“Let's allow them to vote without undue influence,” said electoral commission chairwoman Irene Mambilima.
Just 13 constituencies out of 150 had been tallied before the release of results was suspended, with Lungu leading in 11 of those with 92 026 votes while Hichilema trailed with 44 902 votes.
Final results are now not expected until tomorrow.
The delay in the delivery of polling material initially led Hichilema, a wealthy businessman, to cry foul and allege fraud.
He has also complained about the extension of voting, the shifting of some polling stations and alleged acts of violence by ruling PF supporters.
The head of a regional observer team, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, commended the electoral body for holding a “generally peaceful” vote under “challenging” conditions.
A group of southern African NGOs said in a statement the poll was “credible based on the voting day and generally the election was free and fair.”
In the absence of reliable opinion polls, analysts hedged their bets.
“It's a two-horse race,” said Oliver Saasa, CEO of Premier Consult, a business and economic consultancy firm. “It's quite clear this is a very closely run race.”
Hichilema's camp is seen to have received a boost from the infighting within another major opposition party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), whose candidate Nevers Mumba has little chance.
Lungu's PF, meanwhile, went into the vote badly fractured by a bitter power struggle after Sata's death in October.
With ideological differences between Zambia's political parties difficult to pin down, voting patterns are often determined by personalities and ethnicity rather than issues.
Despite growth-oriented policies and a stable economy over the past few years, at least 60% of Zambia's population of 15 million lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.
About 5,2 million people were eligible to vote, but turnout is expected to be low, partly because of the weather.