Zambia counts votes, internet restriction remains in place

LUSAKA, Aug. 13 (Reuters) – Zambia’s election commission will begin Friday announcing the results of a tight presidential election between top candidate President Edgar Lungu and main rival Hakainde Hichilema that was marred by internet restrictions and violence in three regions.

Zambia’s Election Commission (ECZ) chief election officer Patrick Nshindano said the agency would announce the results from 10 a.m. (0800 GMT). ECZ has said full results will be known within 72 hours of polling stations closing.

The government declined to comment on the internet disruptions, which users say hit several social media sites. Mobile phone networks addressed questions to the government. Facebook confirmed it was one of those affected.

“We know that temporary interruptions to internet services have huge negative human rights, economic and social consequences and we continue to strongly oppose this,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

Using social media such as WhatsApp is part of everyday life in Zambia and restricting internet access may raise suspicions about the outcome of the vote, which is seen as too close to call.

On Twitter and Facebook, Zambians said they were using virtual private networks to get around the restrictions on the internet.

Millions of Zambians voted, forcing some polling stations to remain open after their official closing time, indicating a large turnout.

But Lungu, who has been in power since 2015, has already questioned the outcome of elections in three provinces after accusing the opposition on Thursday of violence that killed a ruling party official.

He ordered the army to send reinforcements to the provinces, although European and African observers said the vote had been largely peaceful so far.

Businesses were open on the streets of the capital Lusaka and citizens went about their daily routines while waiting for results.

The winner of the election faces the task of boosting the faltering economy of Zambia, which became the continent’s first country during the coronavirus pandemic to fail to pay its national debt in November.

Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe Editing by Mark Potter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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