By Hannatu Sadiq
President Edgar Lungu has sent more troops to three provinces to quell violence that erupted following a hard-fought general election.
Vote counting was underway in Zambia on Friday amid social media shutdown in the capital.
Violence was reported in the North-Western province, a Hichilema stronghold, where two people including a ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party chairman were killed, the president announced late Thursday, blaming his rival’s United Party for National Development (UPND) party.
The PF also alleges some of its agents were beaten and chased from polling stations in the Southern province.
Zambia’s electoral commission has launched an investigation following the chairman’s murder, but the UPND distanced itself from it, calling it a “distraction” tactic.
Lungu, who had deployed the military to police the vote following pre-election clashes, reinforced troops in three provinces.
There are fears the president could be “exaggerating the extent of violence and instability in opposition regions to justify” invalidating their results, Nic Cheeseman, British political scientist and author of “How to Rig an Election”, tweeted on Thursday.
Social media access has reportedly been throttled since oppostion candidate Hichilema cast his vote in the capital Lusaka, raising eyebrows among the electorate.
Bleary-eyed polling agents were still counting ballot papers as the sun rose over Vera Chiluba primary school in central Lusaka on Friday, sifting through the final batches in a classroom.
Voting continued hours after polls closed at 6 pm (1600 GMT), with a large fraction of the more than seven million registered voters queueing late into the day to cast their ballot.
Hichilema, who is running against Lungu for the third time, only lost by around 100,000 votes in 2016 and an even narrower margin in a by-election the previous year.
Final official results of the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections are expected by Sunday, although partial and unofficial tallies were already circulating.
Poll watchers have predicted possible unrest when the final results are announced.