Voters in Zambia are casting ballots in an election to complete the term of the late President Michael Sata who died in office in October. There are 11 candidates on the ballot, but many say it is a close race between Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu of Mr. Sata's Patriotic Front party and Hakainde Hichilema, who heads the opposition United Party for National Development.
Zambians braved heavy seasonal rains to cast their vote in an election with no clear frontrunner. Although voting may be extended because of heavy rains that could hinder ballot collection in isolated rural areas.
Ruling Patriotic Front candidate Edgar Lungu arrived at his polling station in Chawana township, Lusaka, battling a cheering scrum in order to cast his vote.
Lungu has tapped into the popular support for deceased President Michael Sata, who founded and dominated the Patriotic Front and whose caustic tongue earned him the moniker “King Cobra." The Patriotic Front campaign has been built upon Sata’s populist policies to uplift the poor and develop infrastructure - a sentiment that will win votes in a nation where 60 percent of the 14 million population lives in poverty.
Civil servant Yvonne Capicca benefitted from a 50 percent salary increase, says Lungu has her vote.
“We are at least getting salaries in a better way ... when I entered my job profession I used to get 1.7 million kwacha, but he increased it to a double portion so that is why I will also go again for this [Patriotic Front], so I am going to make sure I give him a vote,” she said.
But the International Monetary Fund warns the next government will have to rein in excessive public spending that prompted the kwacha currency to fall last year.
Zambia is coping with a gaping budget deficit and a sliding copper price that is at a six-year-low. Copper accounts for about 70 percent of Zambia’s exports and 13 percent of its GDP.
Hichilema pledges to bring spending under control
Across the city, candidate Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, the Patriotic Front's main opponent, addressed constituents waiting in line. Hichilema is one of Zambia’s richest businessmen, owning the country’s second largest cattle ranch. Popular with businesses, he has pledged to bring spending under control. He spoke to VOA before heading to the ballot box:
“Why we are seeking public office is to ensure that we can create an attractive and basically business and investment environment, which is not just attractive but consistent, predictable and credible. Because then we can generate more investment and create jobs and of course, create value to support the social sectors,” he said.
Striding from a muddy polling station in Chawama township, farmer Muchundu Rayson, says he is ready for change.
“We have suffered a lot. Look at this road which you have seen, no drainage and things like that. That is why we try to change so maybe we can have a better life," he said. "Farmers, we are not yet paid now, they promised that after two weeks that we would get our money, but now we are still starving. I do not know where we are going to find the money for fertilizer. Hichilema is a farmer, he knows those details."
Hichilema has profited from politicians leapfrogging from rival parties riddled with factionalism.
The Movement for Multiparty Democracy, the largest opposition party that ruled for 20 years before losing to the Patriotic Front three years ago was embroiled in a bitter leadership battle. Its supporters could influence the outcome of the by-election.
Results are expected to start arriving on Wednesday, with the winner declared by Friday.