2015-Edgar Lungu President of Zambia at NY event on industrialization in Africa.jpg
President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu
Photograph: Photo by UNIDO, used under CC BY-ND

Zambians flocked to vote Thursday in one of their most tightly contested general elections in a decade, with many voters queueing for hours to weigh in as the opposition challenged the government amid an economic downturn.

About 6.7 million people were registered to vote in the southern African country, where President Edgar Lungu's Patriotic Front (PF) was expected to lose votes to opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND).

Some Lusaka residents got up at night to go to queue at polling stations hours before they opened, observers said.

The electoral commission reported "a good turnout" and a "calm and peaceful" voting environment despite weeks of pre-election violence.

Many polling stations opened late due to delayed transport of voting materials and confusion about changes in locations, according to the electoral commission and media reports.

At some polling stations, errors in ballot papers forced the electoral commission to postpone voting to a date which was still to be announced.

"We are happy to see so many people coming to vote - it shows that Zambians understand the importance of elections, and they value their democratic rights," said Cecile Kyenge, chief election observer of the European Union, which had sent 120 observers to the country.

Despite featuring a total of nine presidential candidates, the elections were seen as a two-horse race between Lungu, 59, and Hichilema, 54.

The opposition accuses the PF of not having been able to contain an economic crisis created by falling prices of copper – the country’s main revenue-earner - and drought-induced electricity shortages, which triggered a steep fall of the kwacha currency and spiralling inflation.

Lungu became president after narrowly winning a January 2015 by-election caused by the death of his predecessor, Michael Sata.

Zambia is regarded as one of Africa's most successful democracies, with many peaceful changes of power having taken place since multi-party democracy was introduced in 1990.

But Thursday's elections were preceded by a wave of violence, with clashes erupting between opposition and government supporters. Police also broke up opposition campaigning and shot two UPND supporters dead.

The country's largest independent newspaper, The Post, was meanwhile closed down in what the authorities said was a tax dispute.

Critics of the government say it has failed to use copper revenue to alleviate poverty while allowing multinational copper companies to avoid paying large amounts in tax.

On casting his vote in Lusaka, Hichilema warned against eventual fraud. "We are expecting free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Zambians accept ... nothing short of that," he said.

Lungu had earlier threatened to mobilize the army if the opposition rejected the results, which were expected within a minimum of two days.

In addition to the general elections, Zambians voted in a referendum on whether to amend the constitution to enhance the Bill of Rights.

Related stories

Zambians vote in close elections marred by violence

Zambia's Lungu leads in presidential elections

Latest news

Alphabet's self-driving car company sues Uber over alleged theft

Alphabet's self-driving car company Waymo said Thursday it was suing Uber and its subsidiary Otto for allegedly stealing its technology and infringing its patents.

US, Mexico take "important steps" even as Trump voices indifference

Top US and Mexican diplomatic and security officials met on Thursday in Mexico City, as President Donald Trump in Washington expressed ambivalence about relations with the United States' southern neighbour.

US Supreme Court's Ginsberg emphasizes value of free press

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed optimism about the political future of the United States despite the polarized and combative political atmosphere that has marked the fledgling presidency of Donald Trump.

Top Trump aide Bannon points to promises kept, media fight

Top White House strategist Steve Bannon said Thursday US President Donald Trump is keeping the promises he made during his campaign on issues from immigration to job creation.

Le Pen promises independent foreign policy, autonomous defence

Marine Le Pen promised Thursday that if elected president of France she would ensure it had a truly independent foreign policy as well as an autonomous capacity for self-defence.

Slovenia for ending lawsuits against Ljubljanska Banka

Croatia is infringing the memorandum of understanding signed with Slovenia in 2013 which they interpret differently, the Slovenian Embassy said on Thursday after a hearing at a Zagreb court in a suit which Croatia's PBZ bank filed against Slovenia's Ljubljanska Banka (LB) and Nova Ljubljanska Bank (NLB) over transferred foreign currency savings.

Marin Pucar appointed as new CEO in Podravka food concern

Marin Pucar is the new Management Board chairman of the Podravka food concern and will take the helm of the company after Zvonimir Mrsic's term expires at midnight on Thursday.

Croatian MEP says Moscow wants to influence in western Balkans

Croatian MEP Ivan Jakovcic said in an interview with the Montenegrin Pobjeda daily on Thursday that Moscow is trying to exploit the political forces in Montenegro and that Russia's meddling in Montenegro's internal affairs was "unacceptable behaviour."

New York Times launches brand campaign for 'The Truth' with Oscars ad

The New York Times is using Sunday's Academy Awards show to launch an advertising drive with an ad spot that capitalizes on President Donald Trump's confrontational relationship with the paper and other mainstream media.

Gambia charges former spy chief with murder of opposition leader

The former head of the Gambian national intelligence agency has been charged with the murder of an opposition youth leader who died in detention last year.

Dutch populist Wilders won't publicly campaign after security fiasco

The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) won't make public appearances in support of its election campaign after a security official assigned to protect party founder Geert Wilders was detained by police.

Peace Implementation Council Steering Board calls for defusing tensions in Bosnia

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) met on Thursday, expressing the international community's concern about the situation in the country and calling on local politicians to act rationally to prevent an escalation of the crisis after a motion was submitted to review an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in BiH's case against Serbia for genocide.