Lusaka, Zambia | AFP |
Zambia’s constitutional court on Monday threw out an attempt by the defeated presidential candidate to annul August’s election results, clearing the way for President Edgar Lungu’s inauguration next week.
Hakainde Hichilema, who lost the election by 100,000 votes, alleged that the result was rigged and launched a legal bid to stop Lungu retaining power.
Zambia is known for its relative stability, but the run-up to the vote was marked by clashes between supporters of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) and Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND).
“There is no petition to be heard before this court,” said judge Annie Sitali, ruling that a 14-day deadline for the legal challenge had expired.
Hichilema had argued for an extension after legal arguments lasted until midnight on Friday.
He attended court on Monday, along with hundreds of supporters gathered outside.
“We wish to tell the nation that we have rejected the court ruling,” his UPND party said in statement later.
The official results put Lungu narrowly ahead on 50.35 percent against 47.63 percent for Hichilema among a field of nine candidates — just enough to avoid a second-round run-off.
Lungu, 59, will be sworn in on September 13, the government announced.
He first took office last year after beating Hichilema in a snap election, and has since faced falling prices for copper — the country’s key export — soaring unemployment and inflation rising to over 20 percent.
Following the election on August 11, Lungu told Zambians that the new government would tackle the country’s mounting problems.
“For the next five years, it will be total work, there will be no honeymoon,” he told supporters at a rally shortly after the results were announced.
Zambia, in contrast to neighbours like Angola and Zimbabwe, has escaped war and serious upheaval in recent decades.
It last held a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party in 2011 when Michael Sata took office.
Sata died in 2014, and the 2015 election gave Lungu the right to finish Sata’s term.
Hichilema, 54, a wealthy businessman who was making his fifth attempt at the presidency, said when he voted that he would only accept the election result if it was “free, fair and transparent”.
On the campaign trail, the British-educated economist emphasised his business credentials as an asset to turning around the weakening economy.
Known as “HH”, he has major investments in ranching, property and healthcare in Zambia.
The country, a British colony until 1964, recorded GDP growth of 3.6 percent last year — its slowest rate since 1998.
Election day last month was peaceful, and there was little of the feared violence during the delayed vote count and subsequent court hearing.