Zambia: President Hichilema gives message of unity as Lungu, accepted defeat

Zambia’s veteran opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has won the southern African country’s presidency with more than 50% of the vote.

Mr Hichilema was declared president–elect early Monday after getting more than 2.8 million votes to President Edgar Lungu’s 1.8 million votes, achieving one of the biggest electoral wins in Zambia’s history.

President Edgar Lungu, 64, accepted defeat and said he would work for a “peaceful transfer of power”.

Mr Hichilema welcomed Mr Lungu’s concession but described the outgoing government as a “brutal regime”.

Mr Hichilema had been arrested multiple times and spent some time in jail on treason charges under Mr Lungu’s government, but he said he would not seek vengeance or retribution.

Preaching unity in Zambia, a country of 18 million people with several political and ethnic divisions, Mr Hichilema urged an end to all political violence in which several people died in the run-up to the elections.

“It is indeed a new day. Change is here,” said Mr Hichilema on Monday.

“Let’s put the past behind us. We are not going into office to arrest those who arrested us … to replace those that have been very violent against our people only to start a new wave of violence.”

Mr Hichilema, a 59-year old businessman contesting the presidency for the sixth time, promised democratic reforms, investor-friendly economic policies, better debt management as well as “zero tolerance” to corruption and patronage that allegedly characterised Mr Lungu’s administration.

Mr Hichilema garnered more than half of the nearly five million votes cast to win the presidency outright, without having to go to a runoff election.

Mr Hichilema will become Zambia’s seventh president since the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in 1991 by founding president, the late Kenneth Kaunda, who had ruled the country as a one-party state for more than two decades.

Mr Hichilema narrowly lost two previous elections to Mr Lungu in 2015 and 2016.

His support grew in each of those polls and in 2016 he lost by just 100,000 votes.

Zambians celebrated, with hundreds of Mr Hichilema’s frenzied supporters turning his home on the outskirts of the capital, Lusaka, into a party zone.

Mr Hichilema has his work cut out for him, as his supporters are looking to him to increase employment and cut out corruption.

“We will fix this!” was one of his popular campaign slogans.

Zambia recorded economic progress for more than a decade and achieved middle-income status in 2011, but now the country is beset by high inflation, high debt and allegations of corruption.

The Covid-19 pandemic hurt the already stuttering economy even further.

Lockdown measures pushed Zambia into its first recession since 1998 and the economy contracted by 1.2%, according to the World Bank.

An easing of the lockdown measures in the latter part of 2020 and the global rise in copper prices resulted in some recovery, although inflation reached a high of 22% in February this year, according to the World Bank.

By Dr Sylvester Mukeba and agencies

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