Election officials in Zambia said Saturday that Edgar Lungu had narrowly won the country's presidential race. His rival, however, charged that the election had been "stolen."
The election commission said Lungu, of the ruling Patriotic Front, won 48.3 percent of the vote. Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) finished second with 46.7 percent.
The election was triggered by the death in October of President Michael Sata. Vice President Guy Scott, who has served as acting president, was ineligible to run for the top office because his parents were not born in Zambia. He is the son of Scottish parents.
Lungu, who heads Zambia's justice and defense ministries, will serve out Sata's term until elections next year. He said he wanted to complete economic development projects Sata initiated.
The voting began January 20 but was extended because of heavy rains in some areas. Turnout was light at around 32 percent, blamed in part on the bad weather, but observers told the Reuters news agency the election was fair.
Hichilema, however, alleged the election was "stolen" and did not reflect the will of the people. He said Lungu would be an "illegitimate president" if sworn in.
The UPND had earlier called on the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to verify all results of the election, citing what it said was evidence of voter irregularities.
Canisius Banda, deputy president of the UPND in charge of politics, said the verification had to be done in the presence of all the political parties, stakeholders and the independent election monitoring groups to ensure the winner represents the will of the people.
“We have evidence that this election has been rigged. There are gross irregularities, which the Electoral Commission of Zambia itself is aware of and has admitted that a number of results had been adulterated by people they don’t know. But we know the people. Some of them are workers within the Electoral Commission of Zambia,” Banda said.
The ECZ is the only body that's constitutionally mandated to organize and declare the winners of elections.
Banda said the election results being released by the ECZ should not stand.
“We have engaged the Electoral Commission of Zambia that for the sake of the growth and maturity of democracy, for the sake of national unity and peace, we must verify the results thoroughly — all the results," Banda said.
Zambia’s electoral law stipulates that any political party that disputes the outcome of the election can petition the Supreme Court within 14 days of the declaration of the final results of the vote.
But Banda said the UPND would not wait to legally challenge the outcome.
“We want the verification to be done first. The winner must only be declared after the verification. We do not want to go to court after the declaration — that would be a waste of time,” said Banda.
The electoral commission routinely provides all political parties with verified results as part of its transparency policies.
Banda said the electoral commission has room for improvement.
“The Electoral Commission of Zambia should be commended. It’s an institution that must be strengthened collectively," he said.
The UPND, "given a chance," would make the ECZ independent, he said.