After six shots at Zambia’s highest office, opposition candidate, Hakainde “HH” Hichilema, has been declared by the country’s electoral commission as the winner of Saturday’s presidential election in the southern African nation.
Mr Hichilema, a businessman, beat the incumbent President, Edgar Lungu, by more than a million votes in a spectacular landslide victory.
Mr Lungu, 64, had narrowly taken the office in 2015 by polling 48 per cent of the votes to defeat Mr Hichilema who had 46.7 per cent.
This weekend, however, the fortunes were reversed as the electoral commission said Mr Hichilema polled 2,810,777 votes to beat Mr Lungu who had 1,814,201 in an election with over seven million registered voters.
This means the president-elect won 57.9 per cent of the votes and Mr Lungu, 37.3 per cent.
“I therefore declare that the said Hichilema to be president of Zambia,” the country’s electoral commission chairman, Esau Chulu, announced at the results centre in the capital, Lusaka.
The BBC reported that the landslide win means Mr Hichilema will not have to fight a run-off contest.
But Mr Lungu have described the elections as “not free and fair,” alleging that agents of his Patriotic Front party were hounded and chased from polling stations, leaving votes unprotected and “the whole exercise a nullity.”
Mr Hichilema’s United Party for National Development fired back, however, saying the statement was the “desperate final act of an outgoing administration” to discredit their win, the BBC quoted him as saying.
Sweeping into power in 2011 on the promises of “less taxes, more money in people’s pockets and more jobs,” Mr Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) has struggled to meet the expectations of Zambians.
This, alongside alleged human rights abuses, corruption, a failing economy and massive unemployment, has sparked widespread dissatisfaction among voters, especially among the youths, many of whom are estimated to have no job for every five.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that unemployment rose to 12.17 per cent in 2020, the highest since the PF took office in 2011.
The economic strain brought by Covid-19 pandemic also plunged copper-rich Zambia into a recession last year, the first time since 1998.
The Zambian kwacha has also suffered high rates of inflation in recent years, forcing the Bank of Zambia to introduce high value denominations from 2003, including 20,000 and 50,000 kwacha bills to facilitate transactions.
Homing in on this, Mr Hichilema, 59, based his campaign promises on turning around the fortune of his over 18 million compatriots.
He has now dashed Mr Lungu’s second term hopes. But he has his works well cut out for him to restore the economy of the landlocked country.
“In the 2021 elections, the people voted to save democracy,” The New York Times quoted Mr Hichilema as saying in a written statement issued by Vanguard Africa, a pro-democracy nonprofit that is working with him.
“We know that a healthy and functioning democracy is one in which the voices of citizens can be heard freely,” he added. “We will listen to those voices rather than seeking to silence critics.”
Mr Hichilema will become Zambia’s seventh president, with the first being long-serving president Kenneth Kaunda (1964-1991) who died in June aged 97.
Others are Frederick Chiluba (1991-2002), Levy Mwanawasa (2002-2008), Rupiah Banda (2008-2011), Michael Sata, (2011-2014) who died in office in 2014 and was replaced by Vice President Guy Scott, a Zambian of Scottish descent who acted as president until the 2015 elections that brought in Mr Lungu.