The opposition in Zambia is leading the early vote count

Hichilema is seeking re-election for the sixth time, with the support of ten opposition groups.
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Supporters for Zambia's presidential candidate for the opposition party United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema, gather outside one of the party offices, where they are demand

Zambia's major opposition candidate was ahead in partial election results on Saturday, but incumbent President Edgar Lungu cried foul.

Even though EU monitors stated campaign circumstances were "unequal" and favored the incumbent, Hakainde Hichilema, 59, was ahead of Lungu, 64, in around 20% of the constituencies revealed thus far, thanks to a strong turnout in Thursday's vote.

Hichilema is challenging Lungu for the third time in what many predict will be a tight race due to growing discontent over rising living costs and crackdowns on dissent in the southern African country.

The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) has announced the results of 31 of the 156 seats so far, with Hichilema leading with 449,699 votes to Lungu's 266,202.

The government Patriotic Front (PF) and the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) both say their candidates are in the lead, using their own tabulations.

Hundreds of UPND supporters marched through Lusaka on Saturday, expressing their dissatisfaction with the ECZ.

Following deadly pre-election confrontations, soldiers sent to police the poll on Thursday kept an eye on the situation from armoured military vehicles.

After two fatalities on election day, including a governing party chairman, voting continued late into the night, resulting in occasional confrontations and army reinforcements in three regions.

On Saturday, Lungu argued the election was unfair because of the violence, which he said was focused in UPND strongholds.

"With polling agents having been attacked and chased from polling stations, we were reduced to competing in seven (out of ten) provinces," he said in a statement, adding that the PF was "consulting on the next course of action".

Some observers are concerned that Lungu would refuse to accept anything less than victory.

Following a high court ruling, social media access in Lusaka was entirely restored on Saturday, just before Hichilema cast his ballot.

The final result must be disclosed within 72 hours of the latest polling station closing time, which means the wait might extend until early Monday.

Election rigging

Election manipulation has been a source of considerable concern.

People were suspected of bringing pre-marked voting papers, which the ECZ disputed, resulting in scuffles at many polling locations.

On Saturday, Ernest Bai Koroma, the leader of the African Union's observer mission, stated voting "operations were conducted in a peaceful, transparent, and professional manner."

European Union colleagues were a little harsher on the survey, criticizing internet restrictions and "unequal campaign conditions."

According to chief observer Maria Arena, the electoral process was technically well-managed but marred by... limitations on freedoms of assembly and mobility, and abuse of incumbency.

Security personnel have barred Hichilema from campaigning in various regions of the nation, including the strategically important Copperbelt Province, claiming violations of coronavirus measures and the public order legislation.

Out of a population of approximately 17 million, over seven million persons were registered to vote, the majority of them were between the ages of 24 and 34.

They also chose a parliamentary representative, a mayor, and a municipal councillor in addition to the president.

Hichilema is seeking re-election for the sixth time, with the support of ten opposition groups.