Zambia's President Edgar Lungu has taken a slight lead as vote counting from Thursday's election continues. Zambians have raised concerns over the delay in the release of the final results. Chrispin Mwakideu reports.
Announcing the initial results on Friday evening, the head of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) said out of three constituencies counted so far, President Edgar Lungu (above, with scarf) of the Patriotic Front had garnered 17,620 votes whereas his main rival, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), had 16,358 votes.
A further 153 constituencies have yet to hand in their tally to the results center in the capital, Lusaka, meaning the lead is likely to change from one party to the other over the course of the count.
Concern grew among Zambians over the delay in the release of the results, with Hichilema alleging that polling officials were using the extra time to manipulate ballots in the government's favor.
But ECZ director Priscilla Isaac said the delay was due to the fact that the commission had to wait until the last vote was cast early Friday morning before votes could be counted.
The ECZ also blamed the delay on the fact that this election had been unique, with voters casting five separate ballots, one each for president, vice president, mayor and councilor, along with a referendum to amend the constitution.
An EU monitoring team observing the elections is expected to give its first assessment of the process on Saturday.
At a press briefing on Friday, Isaac said she understood the nation was anxious to hear the results but appealed for calm. Zambia's national broadcaster ZNBC has been constantly airing songs and messages urging citizens to maintain the peace as they await the final results.
Zambians were shocked by violent incidents in the runup to the general election which claimed the lives of at least three people.
Hotly contested vote
Earlier Friday, there was a moment of tension at the results center in Lusaka when the UPND opposition party alleged that servers belonging to the commission had been compromised by an unauthorized person. The ECZ said the suspected intruder was under police custody and that the matter was under investigation.
The hotly contested vote on Thursday saw a massive turnout, with many people voting for the first time. Observers predicted a tight race between President Lungu and his main challenger, Hichilema.
Lungu criticized the opposition candidate after Hichilema reportedly said he would not accept defeat.
But speaking to reporters after casting his vote on Thursday, Hichilema said he was willing to concede defeat as long as the vote was deemed free, fair and transparent.
Improving Zambia's economic growth will be a key priority for whoever is declared the winner.
According to figures from the World Bank, 60 percent of Zambians live below the poverty line. More than 40 percent are considered to be living in extreme poverty. Zambia, Africa's second largest exporter of copper, saw its economic growth shrink to around 3 percent in 2015 as a result of China's diminishing interest in the metal and a global downfall of prices.