Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has won the presidential election against incumbent Edgar Lungu. The final vote count shows Mr. Hichilema with 2,810,777 votes against President Lungu’s 1,814,201, a landslide victory. This is Hichilema’s sixth attempt at winning the presidency, ever since his first campaign in 2006. On August 23rd, he took the oath of office, becoming Zambia’s president in a rare opposition victory for the continent. President Lungu repeated claims that the elections were not free and fair despite conceding defeat, implying the election was stolen from him. With a regime filled with allegations of corruption, human rights abuses, and a troubled economy, the change in leadership might mean a brighter future for the people of Zambia.
Hakainde Hichilema is a 59-year-old businessman who is one of Zambia’s richest men. He comes from humble origins, describing himself as a “cattle boy” since, as a child, he would help raise his family’s livestock. Despite this, after going to college in Zambia and obtaining an MBA in the UK, he returned and made a fortune across a handful of industries. His story, his ability to connect with younger voters, and the use of social media resulted in his popularity among the electorate.
The popularity of the opposition leader was not the only reason why he won by such a large margin. Former President Lungu’s administration had many allegations of wrongdoing levied against it. Firstly, his party had come into power with the promise of bringing jobs and improving the economy, which it has failed to deliver to constituents. Then, according to Amnesty International, the human rights situation in the country has “drastically deteriorated” under the presidency of Lungu. For example, brutal crackdowns on protesters, opposition leaders, journalists, and activists have been commonplace. In fact, there have been several attempts at suppressing freedom of expression, by criminalizing peaceful protests and trying to charge those who spoke out against the government with criminal offenses. With new leadership, Zambia could see a return to the protection of human rights, allowing for more freedom for citizens to express their opinions, a hopeful sign of strengthening democratic institutions in the country.
Despite having a regime that attempted to stop people from sharing their views or protesting against government decisions, the people of Zambia elected a new president with a new vision, all with the hope of bringing development and progress to their country. However, it remains to be seen if the new administration will uphold its promises and break the cycle of corrupt and authoritarian behavior. The fact that former President Lungu conceded defeat and that President Hichilema was able to take the oath of office without resistance is a good sign of stronger democratic institutions for the future of Zambia, and a moment of hope for opposition parties across Africa seeking to achieve the same goal.
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