Business mogul and opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was declared the winner of the hotly contested presidential election in over-indebted Zambia on Monday.
With 155 of 156 constituencies reported, official results showed Hichilema won a landslide of 2,810,757 votes to President Edgar Lungu’s 1,814,201.
“I therefore declare the said Hakainde Hichilema President-elect of the Republic of Zambia,” Election Commission Chairman Judge Esau Chulu said in a televised address.
The veteran opposition politician, 59, defeated his longtime rival Lungu in a deadly organized race amid deteriorating living standards.
Lungu, who has been in power for six years, had tried to retain his mandate despite growing resentment at the rising cost of living and the crackdown on dissent.
As president, Hichilema – who has a degree in economics and has pledged to restore investor confidence – will face an economy ravaged by high debt, inflation and unemployment. Last year, the copper-rich southern African nation became the first country on the continent to default on its debt in the coronavirus era.
This is the sixth time Hichilema has run for the top position and the third time he has challenged the 64-year-old Lungu, who just narrowly won their last competition in 2016.
Shortly after the results were announced, Hichilema tweeted a photo of himself standing in front of a crowd with the caption “Thank you Zambia”.
Thousands of Hichilema supporters flocked to the streets of Lusaka, bursting into song and dance.
They applauded, whistled and waved party flags, marching towards the international conference center where the results were announced.
“I’m so excited he finally did it! Tonight we are celebrating Bally’s victory,” said Rosemary Malunga, 21, referring to Hichilema by her nickname, which means father in local slang.
Enthusiastic and sometimes rowdy, the supporters chanted “let’s go Bally”.
Hundreds made their lap of honor to the entrance to the presidential residence, where soldiers and police stood guard.
Hichilema enjoyed the support of 10 opposition parties, which backed his United Party for National Development (UPND).
But Lungu, who came to power in the 2015 snap elections to complete the term of a deceased president in office, said Thursday’s vote was neither free nor fair.
In a statement released by the president’s office, he alleged that his party’s polling officers were attacked and kicked out of polling stations.
Parties that backed Hichilema on Sunday mocked the “unsubstantiated” allegations and urged Lungu to back down.
Known by his initials “HH”, Hichilema called for peace on Sunday.
“We voted for change for a better Zambia free from violence and discrimination,” he said.
“Let’s be the change we voted for and embrace the spirit of Ubuntu (humanity) to love and live together harmoniously.”
Zambia has earned a reputation as one of the most stable democracies in Africa, where every power transition has been peaceful since the former British colony adopted its multi-party system in 1990.
International election observers praised the transparent and peaceful organization of the polls, which recorded a high turnout of around 70.9%.
But they also criticized restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement during the campaign.
Security forces have prevented Hichilema from campaigning in several areas, including the strategic province of Copperbelt, citing violations of coronavirus measures and a law on public order.
Access to social media, restricted in the capital Lusaka as Hichilema was voting, was restored on Saturday following a court ruling.