Tensions grow as Zambia votes for a president

LUSAKA, Zambia, Aug. 11 (UPI) — Violence and a downward-spiraling economy are affecting Thursday’s presidential elections in Zambia.

Hundreds of police are on the streets of Lusaka, the capital of the central African country of 6.7 million people, a former British colony known for its political stability. Clashes between supporters of incumbent Edgar Lungu and businessman Hakainde Hichilema caused a 10-day halt in campaigning in July.

Both ran in a quickly called presidential election in 2015: Lungu won by 28,000 votes.
A drop in the price of Zambia’s primary export, copper, has since moved the country from double-digit economic growth to rising unemployment and social tension, while a drought has slowed food production.

Lungu has promised a national diversification from mining, and a crackdown on the opposition party. In the 18 months he has been in office, he had journalists arrested and closed down the nation’s largest newspaper. While Lungu called it a dispute over an unpaid $6.3 million tax bill, the editor said it was politically motivated.

Hichilema has switched from business loyalties to populist rhetoric, promising jobs and government-sponsored farming equipment, without revealing how his agenda will be paid for.

Zambia is one of the few African countries with a stable government and a history of peaceful elections. It has held multi-party elections since 1991, and incumbent losers step down gracefully. The decline in commodity prices underscores how quickly economic forces can ruin a thriving country, the Wall Street Journal noted.

New election rules call for the winning candidate to receive one vote more than 50 percent of all votes cast. With nine candidates on the ballot, the vote will likely go to a second round, in 37 days. A referendum is also on the ballot for amendments to the constitution; Zambians will vote on whether all citizens are to be guaranteed the right to food, shelter, employment and health care; and whether homosexuality and abortion are to be regarded as crimes.

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