#ZambiaDecides on their president and bill of rights

From the chilly wee hours of the morning right into the long blazing afternoon sun, millions of Zambians around the country queued up waiting to cast their votes in closely contested parliamentary and presidential polls held on 11 August.

 Women with voices: female voters queue up in their own line to cast their ballots at Chawama Primary School in south western Lusaka. Chawama is a consituency held by President Lungu and it was also the area where inter-party clashes led to campaigns being suspended for 10 days in June and July.
Women with voices: female voters queue up in their own line to cast their ballots at Chawama Primary School in south western Lusaka. Chawama is a constituency held by President Lungu and it was also the area where inter-party clashes led to campaigns being suspended for 10 days in June and July.

Local elections, as well as a constitutional referendum on the bill of rights were run alongside the general vote, so in just one day, the people voted for a new president, parliament, mayor, council and a bill of rights.

And you thought South African local elections were confusing with two or three ballot papers.

A new electoral law requires the winner of the presidential vote wins by 50% + 1 vote so it’s all bets in for who will lead Zambia between frontrunners President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).

An early morning voter places her choice for president in the ballot box at Vera Chiluba Secondary School in Mtendere, eastern Lusaka where spiking pre-poll tensions caused concern over the peacefulness of the vote.
An early morning voter places her choice for president in the ballot box at Vera Chiluba Secondary School in Mtendere, eastern Lusaka where spiking pre-poll tensions caused concern over the peacefulness of the vote.

This is the first time all nine of the presidential candidates needed to have a running mate to avoid a presidential by-election, in case the president passes away in office. This is actually more common than you’d think – two presidents have passed away while holding office in the past 10 years.

Cast thumbs up: Young voters outside Ahmadiya Muslim School, Kanyama, western Lusaka, show off their inked thumbs.
Young voters outside Ahmadiya Muslim School, Kanyama, western Lusaka, show off their inked thumbs.

In the referendum, Zambians voted on whether to amend the bill of rights which gives Zambians rights to food, shelter, employment and healthcare. It also bans homosexual acts, abortion and raises the age of consent to 19. Many civil society groups had criticised the decision to carry out the referendum on the same day as the elections, saying that an amendment to the bill of rights in an important matter and should be done separately with elections. The Zambian government ain’t got time for that, clearly.

Inked and counted: A young man at Chawama Primary School has his thumb marked to indicate he has voted, but the new marking method raised concern among many voters forcing the Electoral Commission of Zambia to reassure the public the procedure was above board
Inked and counted: A young man at Chawama Primary School has his thumb marked to indicate he has voted. The new marking method raised concern among many voters forcing the Electoral Commission of Zambia to reassure the public the procedure was above board.

Current president, Edgar Lungu, won the last election which took place after the sitting president, Michael Sata passed away. He won the emergency election by just 27, 000 votes, which could be one of the reasons why the 50% majority vote rule has been constituted. Sata passed away in 2014 at the age of 77 in London from an undisclosed illness.

On the lookout: A first-time polling agent gave up his right to vote so others could do so at Vera Chiluba Secondary School in Mtendere, eastern Lusaka
On the lookout: A first-time polling agent gave up his right to vote so others could do so at Vera Chiluba Secondary School in Mtendere, eastern Lusaka

This year’s elections were characterised by pre-election violence, where there has been fighting between the ruling PF and the main opposition, the UPND. Three people have been killed in the fighting and many more were injured. The police have also stopped the opposition from campaigning and the running mate of the opposition leader was teargassed during a police raid. Zambia’s daily paper, The Post, which has a reputation for criticising both the government and opposition was also closed down earlier this year for tax reasons but many have said that it was actually a political ploy to silence those who speak out against power. The UPND has also accused the ruling party of corruption and being unable to contain the economic crisis which is affecting the country as a result of the falling copper price (copper makes up for 70% of Zambia’s exports)  and the drought-induced water shortages. The president has also threatened to call in the army if the opposition rejects the results of the vote.

Raphael Makonewo (right), 46, a former ward councillor candidate in the 2011 elections shows his support for the ruling PF as he waits to vote at Chawama Primary School.
Raphael Makonewo (right), 46, a former ward councillor candidate in the 2011 elections shows his support for the ruling PF as he waits to vote at Chawama Primary School.

The results are due to be released by Sunday, but if neither party gains 50% or more of the vote, there will be a second round of voting which will take place within 37 days to be contested by the top two parties.

Zambia Votes8
Charles Phiri (23) draped up in PF gear, says he looks forward to the results of one of Zambia’s most closely contested polls in recent history.
Images by Tendai Marima, additional reporting by Fatima Moosa.

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