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Zambians to Vote in Tense Polls as Country’s Economy Struggles

Zambians to Vote in Tense Polls as Country’s Economy Struggles
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By Staff, Agencies

Zambians will decide Thursday whether to re-elect President Edgar Lungu after the country's worst economic performance in decades and a crackdown on dissent that has raised fears of unrest in the southern African country.

His main rival, in what polls suggest is a close election race, is 59-year-old Hakainde Hichilema, making his sixth run for the presidency.

Hichilema has already narrowly lost to Lungu twice: in a 2015 by-election after the death of ex-president Michael Sata and then in general polls the following year.

Lungu deployed the army following clashes between the rival supporters in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls, a move critics denounced as a tactic to intimidate opposition voters.

Analysts said the result of the closely fought election will set the tone for investment in the copper-rich southern African nation, where more than half of its 17 million people live in poverty.

Surveys suggest economic hardship has eroded support for Lungu, accused of borrowing unsustainably to finance flashy infrastructure projects, as living costs soared.

In the capital Lusaka, Lungu's green Patriotic Front [PF] party manifestos have dominated billboards lining newly built freeways and overpass bridges. They trumpet "achievements" in construction, agriculture and youth employment.

Opposition voters, whose party color is red, are keeping a low profile in Lusaka, traditionally a PF stronghold.

Some of them even wear green, the ruling party's color, to avoid trouble -- known as the "watermelon tactic."

"We do not feel that safe...there is so much intimidation," said UPND supporter William Njombo, a 42-year-old pastor volunteering at the party's headquarters.