Zambians started voting on Thursday with a promising huge turnout in a decisive election in which the incumbent Edgar Lungu is seeking a second term.
Mr Lungu, 64, faces the main opposition UPND candidate Hakainde Hichilema, 59, making his fifth attempt at the presidency.
Long early morning queues were witnessed in the capital Lusaka with young people eager to cast their votes.
“I’m so glad I have finally managed to vote after being in the queue for the last two hours,” Elita Tembo, 23, told The EastAfrican in the central township of Kabwata.
The ruling Patriotic Front party campaigned on the back of infrastructure projects – road, airport and energy – it has put up in the last nine years, while the opposition was riding on a floundering economy worsened by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government borrowed to invest in infrastructure which has left the country heavily indebted. Last November, Zambia defaulted on part of its debt, becoming the first African nation to do so during the pandemic.
Mr Hichilema, who is backed by an alliance of the opposition parties, told journalists he was confident of winning the election as the masses were dissatisfied with the state of the economy.
President Lungu was among the early voters who cast their ballots at a polling station in the slums of Chawama township south of Lusaka.
“We are winning, I would not be in the race if we are not winning,” he told reporters after voting. He asked people to maintain the peace.
The government deployed troops ahead of the Thursday vote after two people were killed in election-related violence.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued a statement calling for a calm and peaceful poll.
“SADC further calls upon all stakeholders, particularly political parties, to make use of the established legal institutions in the event of any electoral dispute,” Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who chairs SADC’s organ on defence, politics and security said in a statement.
About 7.2 million people are eligible to cast their vote in the country with a population of 18 million.