Zambia election: Lungu concedes defeat after leaders mount pressure

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Monday, 16 August 2021 17:52

Supporters of UPND presidential candidate Hakainde Hichilema celebrate as soldiers drive past in Lusaka, Zambia 16 August 2021. REUTERS/Jean Ndaisenga

Behind-the-scenes efforts by ex-presidents and leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to persuade Zambian President Edgar Lungu to concede defeat started soon after polling stations closed on Thursday evening.

Lungu conceded on Monday, just after noon, in a brief address on state broadcaster ZNBC. “I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transfer of power,” he said. “I would therefore like to congratulate my brother, the president-elect, Mr Hakainde Hichilema.”

Hichilema, the presidential candidate of the opposition United Party for National Development was declared president-elect after winning the election by a landslide.

Final result announced

With 155 out of the 156 constituencies counted, the chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) Justice Essau Chulu, had in the early hours of Monday morning said: “I hereby declare Mr. Hichilema [the] president-elect of Zambia on this day 16 August 2021.”

Lungu needs an exit plan which does not include going to jail…

The commission managed to stick to its self-imposed deadline to declare results within 72 hours after the last polling station closed on Friday at 5am.

Hichilema got 2.8 million votes (59.4%) while the incumbent Lungu garnered 1.8 million votes (38.3%). More than 70% of the over seven million registered voters turned out to cast their ballot.

Elections “not free and fair”

According to the law, a poll loser has seven days to petition the court, which then has two weeks to hear the case. Lungu initially wanted to go the legal route: in a statement on Saturday, he claimed that the elections were “not free and fair” due to the alleged murder of two party agents on election day.

“How can the elections be fair when people have been murdered and many others are in hiding after being brutalised?” he said, adding that he wrote to the ECZ “but they […] continued announcing the results”.

Initially it was expected that Lungu would concede on Saturday, but diehard Patriotic Front leaders close to him are said to have persuaded him otherwise, even as others from his own party started acknowledging Hichilema’s win.

Former Kabwe Central PF MP Tutwa Ngulube, who is also a lawyer and part of the PF’s legal team, said he would stand by Lungu if he decided to petition the courts, but “right now, we are not talking about the petition.”

On Sunday, he told journalists that it’s time to move on. “It is now our time to support President Hakainde Hichilema and give him all the support he needs from the people of Zambia.”

Consulting former presidents

Former President Rupiah Banda played a major role in facilitating talks in an effort to persuade Lungu to concede defeat. Before the elections, Banda issued a non-partisan statement in which he said the losers of the election “must be able to graciously accept defeat, congratulate the winners, reorganise themselves and try again in the next election”.

As results trickled in at an uncharacteristically slow pace on Sunday, Hichilema paid a visit to Banda at his Lusaka residence. The closed-door meeting lasted more than two hours. “We discussed a wide range of issues bordering on the welfare of our people. We remain committed to ensuring a united and developed Zambia for all,” Hichilema said in a Facebook post.

In 2011, Banda conceded defeat after he was beaten by Michael Sata in the presidential election. He now assumes the role of “father figure after KK’s demise,” a diplomat said, with reference to the death of Zambia’s iconic independence leader Kenneth Kaunda in June.

Lungu also held a meeting with former Sierra Leone president Ernest Bai Koroma, who now heads the African Union’s observer mission. Afterwards, Koroma posted a message on Twitter saying he was “pleased that indeed Zambia is ‘One People, One Nation'” and urged Zambians to celebrate the election outcome “peacefully & magnanimously”.

Banda facilitated a phone call between the two contenders on Sunday, but the exact time that this happened isn’t clear, said one of our sources. Koroma and former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete – who heads the Commonwealth Observer Group – are said to have been in talks with Lungu as early as Thursday night; long queues, an unexpectedly high turnout on voting day and initial results had pointed towards a potential landslide win for Hichilema.

In a statement on Saturday, the Commonwealth mission said “where expectations are not met at any level of the [elections] process, peaceful and legal channels will be sought, and fairness guaranteed by relevant institutions”.

SADC ministers rallied

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s foreign minister Liberata Mulamula addressed foreign ministers at the regional SADC summit, which is currently in session in Lilongwe.

The ministers “sat in one room and started coordinating [their response, should Lungu not concede],” a source close to Hichilema’s campaigners said. Reports indicate that SADC ministers were critical of Lungu’s earlier refusal to concede defeat.

The compromise is that he will retain his immunity but that those at lower level will face the law.

SADC’s chairperson – Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi – spoke to Kikwete and told him to tell Lungu that SADC would endorse Hichilema as the outright winner on Monday [16 August], the source said.

If Lungu’s supporters would have violently resisted the election results, Kikwete – who led the Commonwealth group to the 2016 Zambian elections and has also succeeded in mediating talks between candidates in previous elections that turned volatile – would have been asked to stand by in readiness to lobby SADC leaders for help.

SADC heads of state are expected to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday for the regional summit. Its observer mission for Zambia’s elections was ‘virtual’ – ostensibly due to budget constraints – and became the laughing stock of numerous other missions that were in Zambia. However, an SADC diplomat said the “level of engagement” between the virtual observers and election officials in Zambia was high.

Long in the making

Another source said efforts to bring Lungu and Hichilema together started prior to the elections due to expectations that there would be a close outcome.

Lungu had earlier indicated that he would not accept defeat but only ‘hand over power to himself’. Four days before the election, some Western diplomats and other leaders got Lungu and Hichilema together to encourage them to graciously accept defeat if they lost.

The US embassy in Lusaka reminded political players that it could slap them and their families with individual sanctions and travel bans…

The source however said Lungu was “belligerent” and bargaining took a while. “Now that the results show that PF has lost, Lungu has to face the real possibility of leaving state house and needs an exit plan which does not include going to jail,” the source said, adding that meetings between the two leading candidates were not very productive as “the two have an active deep hatred for each other”.

Lungu, who has been accused of human rights abuses and corrupt practices during his six years as president, is said to have wanted assurances that he would not be jailed. Many voters who were interviewed in the run-up to the elections cited the alleged crimes committed by Lungu and his party cadre supporters on the ground as the reason why they would vote for the opposition.

The United States embassy in Lusaka, in a bold pre-elections statement, reminded political players that it could slap them and their families with individual sanctions and travel bans should they not respect the elections process.

“The compromise is that he will retain his immunity but that those at lower level will face the law,” the source said. “There is also talk of a general amnesty for a period for all PF stalwarts to surrender property or money illegally obtained. After that period lapses, then the law kicks in.”

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