Election result perpetuates economic concerns in Zambia
Presidential election result perpetuates economic concerns
19/08/2016On 15 August, President Edgar Lungu was re-elected as leader of Zambia. Following widespread violence between supporters of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and members of the United Party for National Development (UPND), Zambia’s main opposition party, ahead of the vote, Lungu garnered 50.53 percent of the vote to the UPND’s 46.67 percent, marginally avoiding a runoff. Lungu’s main rival and UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema disputed the vote, accusing electoral officials of impartiality and vote rigging following a delay in the delivery of the result. Hichilema has submitted a formal challenge to the Electoral Commission of Zambia, meaning that Lungu’s inauguration has been delayed pending a court ruling.
There is little indication at present of which way the court will rule, however, several organisations, including the European Union (EU), have expressed concern over the conduct of police, state media and the electoral commission in the period leading up to the election. While voting concluded peacefully on Election Day, an EU assessment reports that the electoral commission used the outbreak of violence between members of the two parties in July as an excuse to suspend campaigning, while police “unfairly blocked events of opposition parties at short notice”. Moreover, state media has been criticised for attempting to control news coverage, showing bias in favour of Lungu and depicting opposition parties, mainly the UPND, in a negative light. Furthermore, the tax authorities forcibly closed the country’s sole independent newspaper during the campaign, fuelling concerns that the government had “limited the possibility for voters to make an informed choice”. This will serve to intensify concern among critics that, despite Zambia’s credentials as one of Africa’s most nascent democracies, civil liberties will suffer under the Lungu government.
The result will serve to intensify anti-government sentiment among opposition supporters. Members of opposition groups have rioted across Southern Province where Hichilema enjoys wide support, blocking roads with burning tires and destroying property belonging to PF supporters. Police have arrested some 150 people in connection with the unrest. UPND have also held protesters in central Lusaka in an effort to expedite the court ruling, however, no incidents of violence have been reported. Security remains tight in the capital, with additional security personnel deployment to government offices in an effort to preclude further unrest. Protesters have indicated they will continue demonstrating.
Notwithstanding the result, boosting Zambia’s ailing economy is set to remain the priority for the next government. While Zambia maintains its position as Africa’s largest copper producer, the slowing of the global commodities market, coupled with the onset of a severe drought, have triggered a countrywide energy crisis leading to the closure of numerous mines, burgeoning unemployment and anaemic growth. In response, Lungu has announced plans to secure an IMF bailout package which will be used to invest in the energy and agricultural sectors in an effort to diversify the economy and lessen Zambia’s reliance on copper mining.