Zambia’s electoral commission has declared Hakainde Hichilema, the candidate of the opposition United Party for National Development’s (UNDP’s), as the winner of the presidential elections. The counting has been completed in 155 of the 156 constituencies.
After five failed runs for the top position, Hichilema secured 2,810,757 votes, defeating incumbent President Edgar Lungu, who got 1,810,757 votes. The election registered a voter turnout of 70.95%.
Lungu, whose government deployed the armed forces ahead of the election and blocked social media platforms on the day of voting (August 12), has refused to concede defeat, characterizing the election as “not free and fair.”
Alleging that the ruling Patriotic Front’s polling agents were attacked and not allowed to discharge duty at the voting stations in UPND’s strongholds, Lungu has argued that the election was “characterized by violence, rendering the whole exercise a nullity.”
The UPND has criticized this statement as an attempt to “throw out the entire election just to cling on to their jobs.” Lungu has seven days to challenge the results before the constitutional court, although observers have pointed out that the chances of overturning the results are slim.
Having come in fifth in the 16-candidate presidential race with 16,379 votes, Fred M’membe, who led the newly formed Socialist Party in its first electoral battle, conceded defeat and congratulated Hichilema.
In a statement on Saturday, August 14, when it had become clear that Hichelema had headed toward a landslide victory, M’membe said: “We congratulate Mr Hakainde Hichilema and UPND over their outstanding electoral performance. The Zambian people have spoken. We wish them well.”
He added, however, that the “suffering of the Zambian masses will not come to an end with the continuation of the neoliberal capitalist path.” Further down this neoliberal capitalist path is where president-elect Hichelema — a business tycoon formerly the CEO and co-owner of finance consultancy firms advising the mining companies — intends to take Zambia.
The massive concessions and perks given to mining companies extracting minerals from Africa’s second-largest copper producer under the Lungu administration have caused a severe depletion of the state’s treasury. This resulted in a sharp decline in expenditure on social sector services and an increase in the country’s debt from 36% in 2014 to 118% last year.
After failing to pay tens of millions of dollars in interest in October 2020 and again in January 2021, Zambia, the first country to default during the pandemic, entered negotiations with the IMF for debt restructuring.
In an attempt to woo the IMF and outbid Lungu, Hichelema, who has consistently advocated further concessions for these mining companies, had promised to impose “a moratorium on borrowing” and to “stop access to credit facilities for consumption.” Should he make good on this promise amidst the pandemic, when one of the world’s most food-insecure countries is suffering a further rise in hunger, the consequence for the Zambian masses will be painful.
Calling on his socialist supporters to not lose heart and to continue the struggle against neoliberalism in this grim situation, M’membe said: “our responsibilities as revolutionaries and Zambians is to (now) keep doing our part to build that more just, more fair, more humane Zambia we seek, we struggled for.”