Supporters of Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema celebrated Monday after Hichilema was declared winner of the country’s presidential election, receiving a majority of the vote and avoiding a runoff election.
Representatives of Hichilema’s UPND alliance at Lusaka’s Mulungushi Conference Centre erupted in jubilation upon hearing the news, popping open champagne bottles and tossing a soccer ball.
Outside, UPND alliance supporters gathered on the main street leading up to the conference center, honking car horns and blowing vuvuzelas to celebrate the victory.
Lusaka resident Myriam Mungu was among those celebrating. She said expectations are high, adding that if Zambians work together with the incoming administration, things will improve.
"I am so happy because just like it is a morning, everybody is happy in the morning, it is a new dawn," she said. "I'm so hopeful, change is here. I never thought this day will come but look at us, we are here. That's why I am happy."
Resident Joseph Chanda called on the incoming leadership to quickly tackle what he said is the high unemployment rate among the youth.
"This is a big achievement especially for the young people of Zambia," he said. "Right now unemployment is very high in the country and the economic performance hasn't been as good over the last five years, more especially over the last year during the covid year."
Zambia’s electoral commission said Monday that Hichilema had won more than 2.8 million votes, with Lungu taking 1.8 million votes. The 59-year-old Hichilema, a wealthy businessman and leader of the United Party for National Development, is claiming the presidency on his sixth try.
Political analysts said the contest was a referendum on outgoing President Edgar Lungu’s leadership. They said the uneven enforcement of the Public Order Act, which regulates public gatherings, a clampdown on civil liberties and free speech, and the challenging economic conditions were some of the reasons for the president's defeat.
Zambia’s economy, which has been saddled by falling prices of copper, its chief export, became the first African nation during the COVID-19 pandemic to default on its sovereign debt last year.
Lungu was seeking a second term in office, having defeated Hichilema in the 2016 elections. He boasted of the many infrastructure projects his government has undertaken during his tenure.
Lungu denounced the election as “not free and fair” Saturday after the first round of votes had been released, alleging acts of violence against his supporters and members of his ruling Patriotic Front party. However, government forces blocked Hichilema from campaigning in several areas, while activists accused the government of harsh restrictions on public demonstrations.
Gary Nkombo, leader of the UPND alliance representatives at the National Results Centre, said Hichilema's victory was a long time coming. He promised the incoming administration will reform the public order act.
"So I must tell you now that there's gonna be a breath of fresh air in this country, because we mean well for the development of this country," he said.
The incoming government's task will be to come up with ways to restructure the country's debt, Nkombo said: "in order to give fiscal space to other sectors of the economy."
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.