Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was elected president of Africa’s second largest copper producer on Monday, defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu, a close ally of Beijing, and marking the first electoral defeat for an incumbent African president in two years.
Official results from the Zambian Electoral Commission showed that Mr. Hichilema, an economist who had five unsuccessful elections, was declared the winner with more than 2.8 million votes among Mr. Lungu’s 1.8 million. The campaign was waged amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, including a billions in default and a deteriorating outlook made worse by the effects of the coronavirus.
The bigger than expected victory means Mr Hichilema avoided a runoff election. Mr Lungu, whose government blocked social media sites and claimed over the weekend that the vote was “not free and fair,” admitted on Monday. On television statements, he said he accepted the election results announced by the country’s electoral authority. “I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
The result marks Zambia’s third handover of power through the ballot box in as many decades and further cemented the reputation of the South African nation as a bulwark of democracy on the continent. In recent years, entrenched leaders – from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Cameroon’s Paul Biya – have declared victories in a series of flawed elections that some analysts have labeled a regional democratic relapse.
“The large voter turnout across the country suggests that the Zambians have decided that Lungu’s time is up,” said Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham, UK. “We believe this shows a considerable independence of the Zambian Electoral Commission.”