Zambians voted Tuesday in a special election to replace President Michael Sata, who died in office in October after a long illness kept secret by the government.
Sata’s death unleashed ugly power struggles in the governing Patriotic Front party and the southern African country’s biggest opposition party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, both of which had to be resolved in court.
In the Patriotic Front, the acting president, Guy Scott, a white Zambian of Scottish descent, battled the minister for defense and justice, Edgar Lungu. The two factions held separate conferences to select a candidate in Tuesday’s vote, with Lungu emerging as the winner after the conflict went to court.
The Movement for Multiparty Democracy, Zambia’s largest opposition party, was in office for two decades until 2011, when Sata and the Patriotic Front took power. But the party split over its candidate in this election, initially selecting former President Rupiah Banda, a move challenged successfully in court by party leader Nevers Mumba.
Earlier this month, Banda stunned members of his party when he endorsed Lungu as president. Other party heavyweights endorsed economist Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development and viewed as Lungu’s main rival.
There are 11 candidates, including one woman.
Opinion polls are not considered reliable in Zambia, making it difficult to predict a winner in the tight race. The next president will govern only until elections due in September next year.
Voting started late in many areas Tuesday because ballots did not arrive on time. After casting his vote Tuesday morning, Hichilema claimed that the late voting materials were a sign of fraud.
“Why are there no ballot papers in our strongholds? Someone is scheming around. It’s fraud,” Hichilema told journalists.