Lusaka, Zambia – With the leader of the Zambian opposition party Hakainde Hichilema announced on Sunday that he won the presidential election, celebrations broke out in the Zambian capital Lusaka that continued into the night, with supporters singing, dancing and waving his party flags .
Hichilema of the Union of National Development Party (UPND), 59, won with an overwhelming 2.8 million votes, followed by the current Edgar Lungu with 1.8 million votes.
The voter turnout in the general election on August 12 was the highest since the first multi-party election in Zambia in 1991. Voters under the age of 40 accounted for more than half of the total number of voters.
After the celebration, 28-year-old street cleaner Joseph Phiri collected trash at the Independence roundabout and scraped the ragged poster of Lungu from the wall.
Like many young Zambians, Phiri hopes that the election of the new leader will end the country’s growing authoritarianism and better economic prospects.
Under the leadership of Lungu, who came to power in 2015, the authorities were often criticized for suppressing freedom of speech, assembly, and association.
Phiri remembers the fierce fighting between police and protesters when he became a street cleaner in the capital two years ago.
“Whenever people come here to protest, they will be arrested very quickly. There is no peace there. When you go to work, everyone will be chased by the police, as if we are controlled by the police, and no one is free. I hope there will be now The difference is different,” he told Al Jazeera.
When the sweeper was cleaning up the trash from the fierce presidential campaign, droves of motorists whizzed past, chanting “Go! Go!”, UPND’s slogan.
Many red supporters hope that Hichilema, commonly known as HH, will usher in a more free and prosperous era.
Lungu rejected this result, saying that the election was not free and fair, and accused the election violence in the three provinces of ultimately leading to the murder of the ruling Patriotic Front candidate.
UPND officials refuted Lungu’s statement because people “try to abandon the entire election just to keep their jobs.”
International election observers stated that the polls were transparent and peacefully organized, but criticized the restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement during the election campaign.
If Lungu wants to dispute the election results, he must appeal to the Constitutional Court within seven days.
Hickelma, a businessman who ran for the presidency for the sixth time, promised democratic reforms, a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption, and economic reforms including debt management.
As Zambian youth celebrate their newly elected president, Hicilema faces numerous challenges.
Freedom under Hicklema?
In Lungu, the Public Order Act—the legacy of British colonial rule in 1955—is often used to restrict civil liberties under the pretext of maintaining peace. The Cyber Security and Cybercrime Law, drafted into law earlier this year, further restricts the democratic space and aims to regulate digital media and online activities.
Online bloggers and broadcasters are controlled by online legislation, and some bloggers and media have been suspended for “unprofessional methods”.
For 27-year-old blogger Sailas Ahmed, increasing digital surveillance forces him to use a virtual private network (VPN ).
“As a blogger, my goal is only to produce content, because Internet laws control someone’s online speech. Public order laws restrict face-to-face meetings, but the enforcement of Internet laws makes it feel like the Internet is invaded,” Ahmed said.
“I feel that there is a pair of eyes watching me all the time, and the Internet is no longer the safe space it deserves. I hope that with Hichilema’s victory, this situation will now change,” he added.
According to a survey conducted by Freedom House, Zambia is a country with 9.4 million online users and its Internet access is rated as “partially free”.
During the presidential election voting period, access became increasingly controversial.
According to reports, on election day, the social media platform WhatsApp was blocked, although the government had eliminated concerns about the Internet shutdown before the polls. According to reports, during the election campaign, the Internet was also interrupted in the southern opposition strongholds.
Linda Kasonde, the executive director of the Chapter One Foundation, stated that the foundation took the government to court for Internet restrictions and other human rights violations that violated the Constitution. Since Lungu has been in power for six years, authoritarian rule has increased. .
Kasund said: “We have this’one country, one Zambia’ saying, but we have seen this situation worsen under the leadership of President Lungu. We have seen the human rights record through suppressing critics and opposition. Bad.”
“He has always been a divisive figure. He is deeply entrenched in political lines, tribal lines, and human rights, so now we must bridge these differences. We need a government that respects civil rights and is more responsible,” he added.
Although the high turnout rate of most young voters may have prevented Lungu from being re-elected, young voters in Zambia also hope that Hicilema will fulfill his promise to solve the dying economic problem of soaring inflation and rising youth unemployment.
Hichilema’s UPND party has always bluntly opposed Lungu’s profligacy.
Zambia is the first African country to default on debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund since the pandemic, and has called for relief programs because COVID-19 and loans used to build infrastructure have slowed the economy.
Under the leadership of the Patriotic Front, Zambia borrowed from China to build the Kafue Gorge Hydropower Dam and the more modern Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, named after the country’s late founding president. Many people think he is united with Symbol of peace.
This copper-rich southern African country will pay 1.7 billion US dollars in installments to repay its debts, and needs loans to repay more than 12 billion US dollars of foreign debt.
According to the Zambia Africa Barometer’s Sustainable Development Goals scorecard released in July, “Compared with five years ago, the country is experiencing increasing poverty, hunger, and economic and racial inequality.”
Despite his optimism about Hickelma, the 27-year-old Sebastian Mwila is a youth advocate and campaign assistant to a PAF parliamentarian. He is against any leader not using state tools for himself. The ability to make profit is doubtful.
“What’s refreshing is that we have a new and worth looking forward to in Hichilema, but over time, every leader always uses his power to his advantage instead of favoring people outside the power. And criticizing citizens,” he said.
With the opening of businesses after the pandemic and the slow recovery of life after opinion polls, the challenge of restoring Zambia’s human rights record and economy lay ahead.