Zambians Await Presidential Vote Results After Frenzied Campaign

LUSAKA, Zambia, Capital Markets in Africa: Ballot counting in Zambia was under way Friday after voting ended in a hotly contested election that pitted President Edgar Lungu against his main challenger, Hakainde Hichilema, for the second time in 19 months.

Less than 28,000 votes separated the two men when they contested a snap poll in January last year, after President Michael Sata died in office. While Lungu’s administration has improved the country’s road system and built new clinics and schools, a growth slump, soaring food prices and job losses on the nation’s copper mines have dented his chances of winning a full five-year term.

The run-up to Thursday’s largely peaceful vote for the president as well as lawmakers, mayors and local councilors was marred by violence that claimed as many as six lives, threatening the country’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The ruling Patriotic Front and Hichilema’s United Party for National Development have blamed each other for the clashes.

“These elections will most likely go to a runoff,” Sinethemba Zonke, a political analyst at advisory firm africapractice in Johannesburg, said in by e-mail. “A runoff would lead to increased political tension on the ground and could result in violent skirmishes.”

Lungu and Hichilema, 54, were among nine candidates who ran for the presidency of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer. The new administration will have to try to revive an economy that’s growing at its slowest pace since 1998 due to power shortages and a slide in the price of copper, which accounts for more than 70 percent of export earnings. It also faces negotiating a bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund to help shore up the state’s coffers.

Zambia’s kwacha has weakened 25 percent against the dollar over the past 12 months, the fourth-worst performance in Africa, pushing the inflation rate to more than 20 percent. Yields on Zambia’s $1 billion of bonds due April 2024 rose 4 basis points to 9.46 percent on Thursday, after closing at its lowest level in a year the day before. Glencore Plc and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. are among international companies with operations in Zambia.

Energy Supply
About 6.7 million people registered to cast ballots in the country of 16.2 million. Results will be collated at regional centers before being transmitted to the national results center in Lusaka. A first batch of verified results is expected to be released later Friday and the Electoral Commission of Zambia aims to complete the count by Sunday. A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Lungu, a lawyer, has pledged to improve the energy supply, build more roads and universities and diversify the economy away from copper if re-elected. Hichilema, an economist and businessman who has failed in four previous bids for the presidency, has said he will revive growth, promote investment and ensure state funds are better spent.

Hichilema’s backers include several ex-PF heavyweights, such as Guy Scott, who acted briefly as president after Sata’s death, and Mulenga Sata, the late president’s son. His running mate is Geoffrey Mwamba, an ex-defense minister from the north of the country who has helped rally support from the Bemba, the country’s largest ethnic group.

The election is too close to call, according to Stuart Theobald, a contributing analyst for Johannesburg-based Imara Corporate Finance.

“Whoever eventually wins control of State House, the task will be the same: to tackle the economic headwinds that have grown in the past three years,” Theobald said in an e-mailed report. “The country needs new power projects, new mines, new agri-industries and manufacturing. A positive election outcome could set the scene for rapid development.”

Source: Bloomberg Business News

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