LUSAKA – As electoral officials in Zambia counted ballots on Friday a day after tense voting, President Edgar Lungu has deployed more troops in some restive parts of the country following two election-day killings.
Lungu had deployed the military in selected hotspots ahead of the polls following pre-election violence between the country’s two main political parties.
Two supporters of Lungu's ruling Patriotic Front party were killed on election day as violence hit the Western, North-western, and Southern provinces of the country, according to statements by Lungu and the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
Additional troops were ordered to quell “this unprecedented violence," said Lungu. He blamed the violence on the opposition, which in turn accuses him of using state security to crush dissent and restrict the country's democratic freedoms.
An uneasy calm prevailed in the capital, Lusaka, where people waited anxiously, many fearful of an eruption of unrest when the election results are announced.
There was little traffic in Lusaka's usually bustling city center with most businesses closed as the day after polling was declared a public holiday. In many outlying townships, people stayed indoors or gathered in small groups to chat.
“We don’t know what will happen, maybe there will be some fracas. We just wait,” said Primrose Manga, plaiting the hair of a friend in the poor Mandevu township, where some shops were open.
Army soldiers moved around in trucks and with the police maintained a presence at the National Results Center at Mulungushi International Conference Center, where violent protests broke out in 2016 when election results were disputed. The conference center is now cordoned off by razor wire.
Lungu, 64, is seeking re-election in a tight contest with opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, whom he narrowly defeated in a snap poll in 2015 and again in 2016. Hichilema alleged fraud in both polls and charges that Lungu is also trying to rig the current poll. Lungu denies the charges, calling the opposition “crybabies.”
Although polls were supposed to close at 6 p.m. local time Thursday, voting went on until early Friday morning in some areas where violence aimed against electoral officials delayed the polling, the Electoral Commission said Friday. Final results are expected within 72 hours after the closure of polling centers.