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 head to the polls Thursday in one their most tightly-contested general elections in decades, with President Edgar Lungu coming under fire for an economic downturn while the country struggles with a rare wave of political violence.

About 6.7 million people were registered to vote in the southern African country, where Lungu's left-leaning Patriotic Front (PF) was facing a tough challenge from pro-business opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND).

The opposition accuses the PF of not being able to contain a 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, 59, became president after narrowly-winning a January 2015 by-election following the death of his predecessor Michael Sata.

Historically-stable Zambia has seen a wave of pre-election violence in recent weeks, with clashes erupting between opposition and government supporters while police have broken up opposition campaigning. At least two UPND supporters have been killed in the fighting.

The country's largest independent newspaper, The Post, was also 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 copper multinationals to avoid paying large amounts in tax.

The opposition has said Lungu cannot win the elections without resorting to fraud. The president has already threatened to mobilize the army if the opposition rejects the results of the vote.

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