Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema secured a stunning landslide victory over incumbent Edgar Lungu in Zambia’s presidential election, results showed on Monday.
The electoral commission said Hichilema got 2,810,777 votes against Lungu’s 1,814,201, with all but one of the 156 constituencies counted.
“I, therefore, declare that the said Hichilema to be president of Zambia,” Electoral Commission Chairman, Esau Chulu, said in a packed results centre in the capital Lusaka.
That would make the third time that power has shifted peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition since the Southern African country’s independence from Britain in 1964.
Across Zambia, celebrations broke out in the streets as Hichilema’s supporters wearing the red and yellow of his United Party for National Development (UPND) danced and sang, while drivers honked their horns.
Celebrations could be short-lived, however: Zambia is in dire financial straits and it became the continent’s first pandemic-era sovereign default in November after failing to keep up with its international debt payments.
That was owing to an explosive mix of depressed commodity prices – which had pushed Zambia into recession well before the pandemic – and a brutal slowdown in economic activity caused by the pandemic itself.
Hichilema, 59, a former CEO at an accounting firm before entering politics, now faces the task of trying to revive Zambia’s fortunes. The economy has been buoyed only slightly by more favorable copper prices – now hovering around decade highs, driven partly by the boom in electric cars.
Last year, Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper miner, produced a record output of the metal.
International Monetary Fund support is on hold until after the vote, as is a debt restructuring plan seen as an early test for a new global plan aimed at easing the burden of poor countries.
Lungu, 64, conceded defeat Monday and committed to handing power over peacefully. In a brief televised national address, he congratulated President-elect Hakainde Hichilema and expressed the wish to see a strong Zambia emerge from the elections.
“I want to thank the Zambian people for giving me the opportunity to be president. I will forever cherish and appreciate the authority you vested in me.
“All I ever wanted to do was to serve my country to the best of my abilities. Together with you, we did score in many areas.
“We held our general elections on Thursday and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has released the final results. Based on the ECZ results, I will comply with the constitutional provisions for peaceful transition of power.
“I would therefore congratulate my brother the president-elect, his excellency Mr. Hakainde Hichilema for becoming the seventh republican president,” he said.
Hichilema’s win reverses a narrow loss in 2016 presidential election against Lungu.
Going into the general election, both Hichilema and Lungu were confident of a resounding victory, Hichilema said he was expecting at least 4.7 million people to vote for him in his promise to ‘fix’ the country. Lungu, on the other hand, said he was going to win by at least 500,000 votes.