Thursday, 18 August 2016

Zambian Election Fever

Thursday 11th August marked an important day in Zambia as the country went to the polls to elect a new President and government. Zambia is led by a President and a government which are elected every five years. Elections are decided by a ‘first past the post’ system like in the UK, although for the first time this year a candidate had to win more than 50% to avoid a run-off.

In Zambia there have been six presidents since 1964 when the country gained independence. In 2014, President Michael Sata sadly died during his presidency, so extra elections were held in January 2015. This resulted in President Edgar Lungu being elected to complete his predecessor’s term of office.

PF Candidate Lungu

This year, it was expected to be a tight race between President Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema (known as HH), representing the United Party for National Development (UPND).

UPND Candidate HH

Zambia has been awash with colour in the build up to election day; posters, t-shirts and banners, in green for PF and red for HH. The build-up has been hard to miss and the noise unmistakable! Many vehicles have been driving around carrying supporters and blasting loud music. It’s quite interesting to watch compared to our more traditional, British way of politely arguing or badmouthing other parties. Political paraphernalia in Zambia appears to be mostly billboard posters and articles of clothing, including chitenges (traditional bright fabric that women wear) rather than printed leaflets. The best way to find out information about the election appears to be asking different people what they know and assimilating what you find out.

One of our Arise guardians wearing a PF chitenge 

Adults over 18 are eligible to vote in Zambia if they have an NRC (National Registration Card). Polling stations are open all day and queues are long, which means it can take hours to cast your vote. Each voter was given five ballot papers this year – presidential, parliamentary, mayoral, local government and a referendum. The nearest polling station to us was at the local government primary school and many staff from the Bible College had the day off to enable them to vote wherever they are registered.

A key issue in the election has been Zambia’s struggling economy. Interestingly as the election grew closer, our 8 hour a day load shedding (power cuts) was significantly reduced to only four hours, a few times a week. During election week, there actually seemed to be power all day every day! I’m told that it is due to the President drumming up support from voters. I am slightly concerned what will happen to the power when the election fever has died down.

One of the interesting tactics that the current President has used as part of his campaign, is to grant people free entry to some of Zambia’s football matches. I attended a couple of these matches and I have never seen the 49,800 seater national stadium so full. There were people running to get in, and armed officers at the entrances letting in PF supporters. I couldn’t really imagine the Tories hosting a free football match and not allowing Labour supporters to attend it!

Supporting Zambia Football Team

It is common that people in Zambia vote according to tribal lines. President Lungu is from the Eastern Province which is part of the Bemba region. This mean that PF’s main support comes from the Eastern Province, the capital Lusaka, the Copperbelt (including Ndola) and other Bemba speaking regions.

Winning parties in 2015 election

The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) gradually released the results from each constituency between Friday 12th and Monday 15th August. Where we live in Kaniki it was 600 in favour of PF and 400 for HH. Considering it is predominantly a PF dominated area, the opposition gained a lot of support. Overall, the vote turned out to be close, with Lungu securing 50.35% of the vote and retaining his position as President of the country.

There have been rumours of electoral malpractice, such as missing votes. UPND are alleging fraud, saying that the ECZ colluded with PF to rig the result, so the party has withdrawn from the ballot verification process.

Although mainly peaceful, it has been a tense time in the country. There have been a few reports of trouble even nearby. When driving in to town one evening recently, we went past a couple of open vehicles full of supporters, beeping horns and playing loud music. One of our neighbours told us that two people were killed that evening among the commotion.

Please pray for continuing peace in Zambia.

Raising the Zambian flag at school

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