Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has taken an early lead in the country’s presidential election over former rival and incumbent Edgar Lungu, according to first results released by the electoral commission on Saturday.
Lungu, 64, in power since 2015, faces potentially close competition against Hichilema, known as “HH,” a businessman who has criticized the president’s management of a failing economy.
Investors are closely watching the outcome of Thursday’s election with the southern African country heavily in debt and also suffered the continent’s first sovereign default in a pandemic era in November, results from 15 of the country’s 156 electoral districts gave Hichilema 171,604 votes compared to 110,178 for Lungu, who is running for a second five-year term.
Those 15 districts include perceived strongholds of Lungu, suggesting that Hichilema has gained ground since the last election in 2016 when he narrowly lost in elections marred by allegations of manipulation.
The first results were initially expected on Friday. They were delayed after the count dragged on overnight due to large voter turnout and because political parties objected to initial figures from the electoral commission in one constituency, which differed from those of monitors on the ground.
An estimated 7 million people registered to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections in the country, Africa’s second-largest copper producer The Zambian Election Commission allowed the last polling station to remain open until 5 a.m. Friday to give people who had queued for hours a chance to cast their vote. The election also saw violence in three regions and restrictions on Internet access.