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Zambians bracing for tense polls

Mark Caldwell (AFP, Reuters)June 3, 2016

Nominations were to close on Fiday for candidates contesting the presidential elections in Zambia on August 11. It's set to be a close race and the run-up to the poll has been marked by complaints about irregularities.

Sambia Lusaka Präsident Edgar Chagwa Lungu
President Edgar Lungu has been in power since 2015Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Dawood

Friday (03.06.2016) was the last day for nominations for the Zambian presidential elections scheduled to take place on August 11. Nominations opened on May 30.

Incumbent President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and his running mate, Inoge Wina, handed in their nomination papers at the headquarters of electoral commission on Thursday.

Lungu came to power in 2015 after narrowly winning elections following the sudden death of his predecessor Michael Sata in October 2014.

In the 2015 poll, Lungu polled 48.3 percent of the vote; his nearest rival Hakainde Hichilema from the United Party for National Development (UPND) garnered 46.7 percent.

Hichilema and his UPND party are expected to once again mount a stiff challenge to Lungu in the elections just 10 weeks away.

Sambia Hakainde Hichilema Archiv
Hakainde Hichilema from the UPND is a front-runner in the August poll along with Edgar LunguImage: Mwenda/AFP/Getty Images

Hichilema was expected to hand in his nomination papers on Friday.

Elections and referendum

As well as electing a new president on August 11, Zambians will also be voting in local government and parliamentary elections and in a referendum.

Juliet Tembo, political analyst at the University of Zambia, fears that this will make voting unnecessarily complicated.

"The decision by the government to hold the referendum together with the national elections was not a good one. The referendum will be about changes to the bill of rights," she told DW.

The Bill of Rights, which is about basic freedoms, is seen as a separate issue unconnected to the elections.

The rules governing the elections have also been changed. Under a new constitutional bill signed into law by Lungu in January, a presidential candidate will be required to garner more than 50 percent of the votes to be declared the winner. Tembo thinks this will mean that a run-off is almost unavoidable.

"I think this will be a very tightly contested election and I don't know if this can be done in one round, if one candidate can actually secure 50 percent plus one vote," she said.

Sambia Kupferbergwerk
Diversification away from copper yielded a modest increase in economic growth of 0.2 percent from 2015 to 2016Image: picture-alliance/Wildlife/S.Muller

In a sign of tension ahead of the polls, Lungu was forced to defend a constitutional amendment in mid-May under which ministers would be allowed to remain in office after parliament had dissolved. Previously, ministers had vacated offices once parliament had broken up. The opposition fears that letting them stay in office would give the government more leverage in campaigning.

Allegations of irregularities

Another source of controversy is the decision by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to award the contract to print the ballot papers for the elections to the Dubai-based firm Al Ghurairi. Writing for the comment and analysis website African Argument, Sishuwa Sishuwa said an explanation was needed from the ECZ "especially since the Dubai based firm quoted $3.6 million (3.2 million euros) for the contract, which is more than double the amount tendered by the South African company Ren-Form CC, which has printed Zambia's ballot papers for the last three years."

Zambia is Africa's second biggest copper producer, but its economy has been hit by falling world demand. The country said in April it had agreed targets with the International Monetary Fund, preparing the way for an aid program by the fourth quarter of 2016. Last year, the local currency, the kwacha, slumped by 42 percent against the dollar.