Voters are picking a president and legislators in Zambia. Incumbent Edgar Lungu and his main rival, Hakainde Hichilema, both say they are confident of outright victory under new rules that require a majority.
Incumbent Edgar Lungu and his main rival, Hakainde Hichilema (pictured), lead a pack of nine presidential candidates in Zambia's elections on Thursday. The two had faced off in January 2015 in a fight to finish the term of President Michael Sata, who died in office of an unspecified illness.
Hichilema has accused police of blocking rallies and said state media favored Lungu's ruling Patriotic Front (PF). Rights groups say the regime has stifled media and jailed opposition members.
Earlier this summer, the election commission suspended campaigns after supporters of Lungu's PF party and Hichilema's United Party for National Development (UPND) clashed in the capital, Lusaka. In all, three people were killed in the run-up to Thursday's vote.
"I do not think that either of you will want to go on record as having been the two political parties who contributed to permanently denting Zambia's record of peaceful elections," commission head Esau Chulu said.
The Constitutional Court ordered cabinet ministers to quit earlier this week, ruling that they should have done so when the government dissolved parliament in May to prepare for elections. The national law association had challenged the government's decision to let the ministers stay. The court also ordered the dismissed officials to pay back their salaries from the months during which they were ineligible to serve.
Zambia goes to polls
'Economy is broken'
Zambia has sought a potential financing deal from the International Monetary Fund after officials conceded that the budget deficit - about 4.8 percent of gross domestic product in the past two years - had become unsustainable. Economist-cum-businessman Hichilema says the former lawyer Lungu lacks the expertise to manage the economy.
"We are business people," Hichilema said on a radio program on Wednesday, referring to the UPND. "We understand the economy - this economy is broken."
Lungu blames the economic downturn on Zambia's heavy reliance on copper exports. He also says his government has made strides in commissioning new power plants and investing in diversifying the economy toward sectors such as agriculture.
The winner will need a majority of the valid votes cast for the first time, with a revote required within 37 days if no one succeeds in the first round. Lungu and the PF had won last year's election with 48 percent of votes. Hichilema, who got 46 percent in his fourth showing as a presidential candidate, called the vote a sham.