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Zambian Opposition Leader Denies Election Boycott Threat

FILE - Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development casts his ballot in Lusaka's Kabulonga suburb, Jan. 20, 2015. Zambians chose Edgar Lungu to serve the remainder of the term of President Michael Sata, who died in October 2014.

The leader of Zambian’s main opposition has denied local media reports that he threatened to sit out the August 11 presidential election.

The reports suggested that Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) threatened to boycott the election if the Electoral Commission of Zambia went ahead with plans to print ballots in Dubai. Ruling party supporters said a boycott would show that Hichilema was afraid of losing to incumbent President Edgar Lungu.

“I have never indicated that we may consider not running. That’s out of the question,” Hichilema said. “What we are saying is that there are reasons that are basically creating anxiety among the people of Zambia as to why ballot papers would be printed by a Dubai-based company.

"This bidder is expensive — just simply that. The bidder who has been printing ballot papers in the last couple of elections here is half the price of this Dubai-based printer. And this printer is South Africa-based, which is near and has proven that he can do the job, [and] they can meet the specification.”

Hichilema's comments came after a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the research arm of a sister company to Britain's Economist newspaper, predicted that Hichilema would win the presidential election. The EIU said recent defections from the ruling Patriotic Front to the UPND, coupled with the endorsement of Hichilema by former Vice President Guy Scott, a leading member of the PF, boosted Hichilema's chances in the election.

No letup by UPND

Hichilema welcomed the EIU report but said the UPND would not relent in its campaign to wrest power from the PF.

“We offer an alternative to the economic recovery program, which is superior to that of Edgar Lungu and the PF, who have failed to run the country, who have basically brought a lot of poverty, unemployment, budget deficit, if you like, current account deficit … and many other deficits, including the high cost of food,” Hichilema said.

“We offer economic turnaround policies, stability in various economic and fiscal policies, and I think the Economic Intelligence Unit’s assessment is correct, and that is in line with the general perception in the country," he said. "But we are not complacent about that. We know that the election can be stolen. That’s why we are making sure that we remain active to any maneuvers that would cause manipulation of election results.”

Frank Bwalya, deputy PF spokesman, said Zambians were solidly behind Lungu and the governing party, and he rejected the electoral prediction as not a true reflection of issues on the ground.

He dismissed the EIU suggestion that Scott's endorsement would help Hichilema. He also said reports of hundreds of defections from the PF were inaccurate.

"Zambians don't read the Economist Intelligence Unit report, for a simple reason that they repeat what Zambians already know through their own local economists and other social commentators. So that Economist Intelligence Unit never comes up with anything new," Bwalya said.

Hichilema said the facts on the ground showed that the UPND has the momentum in the presidential campaign. “In the 2015 presidential by-election, I am on the only candidate that gained votes in all the 12 provinces in Zambia," he added.