World Bulletin / News Desk
Zambia's main opposition party has decided not to challenge the results of last week's presidential by-election – which it dismisses as "fraudulent" – and will focus instead on sought-for electoral reforms ahead of 2016 general polls.
"We agreed that in the interest of peace, we should consider [Edger] Lungu president of Zambia," Hakainde Hichilema, who contested the presidential race on the ticket of his United Party for National Development (UPND), told The Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
"But this does not take out the fact that he stole the election from us and he is in the State House on a stolen vote," he insisted.
"The election was stolen from us by individuals within the Electoral Commission of Zambia, who the ruling party paid to manipulate the results," Hichilema said.
"Our primary objective therefore is to ensure that these individuals are flushed out of the commission," he added.
Zambians went to the polls last Tuesday to choose from between 11 presidential hopefuls, including Hichilema and Edger Chagwa Lungu, leader of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party.
Lungu was declared winner of the poll with a total of 809, 925 votes – or 48.33 percent – against 780,168 votes – or 46.46 percent – for Hichilema.
On Sunday, Lungu took the oath of office as Zambia's sixth president since the country's independence from Britain in 1964, named a new vice-president and reshuffled the cabinet.
Hichilema says the election was stolen from him at the point of verification.
"At this point, bad elements within the commission altered the certificate of election results to suit the interests of their preferred candidates," he said.
"Our election agents were not allowed to seek redress with the returning office, because these people were threatened if they entertained them," he added.
PF Secretary-General Davies Chama, for his part, rejects the allegations.
"To say we stole the election from the opposition UPND is just wishful thinking," he told AA. "At no time did we engage in fraudulent activities to win an election."
Chama insisted that the electoral commission was an independent body that operates independently of the government and ruling party.
"If what Hichilema is saying is true, then it would have been difficult for the PF to unseat the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy [party] from government," he said, referring to the results of 2011 general elections.
Priscilla Isaacs, director of elections, said the electoral commission had not received any complaints from Hichilema or his party regarding the poll results.
"In any case, the best thing Hichilema could have done would have been to petition the election commission if he has evidence as he claims," she told AA.
Hichilema, for his part, asked how the party could challenge the election results given the fact that those who would handle the petition were the same people who had – according to him – manipulated the vote results.
"Some elements we seek to remove from the commission connived with officials from the ruling PF to alter election results in favor of Lungu," he told AA. "We have evidence to this effect to show how our election [victory was] stolen from us."
Hichilema said the party would instead take legal action aimed at removing the individuals responsible for the alleged vote-rigging.
"As a party, we will launch a civil proceeding against individuals whom the party has identified to have been the ones the ruling PF used to manipulate the election results in favor of Mr. Lungu," he told AA.
According to Hichilema, this will go hand-in-hand with demands for electoral reforms, which will seek to allow party agents – tasked with policing elections on behalf of individual parties – to attend the vote-verification process.
"This process begins at the polling stations before results are sent to the constituency totaling center in readiness for transmission to the national totaling center in Lusaka," he explained.
"Allowing election agents at every level will prevent unscrupulous hired individuals from manipulating election results, as happened in the last election," the opposition leader said.
"If we had a provision in the electoral law that allowed the election agent to be present at the verification exercise at every level, it would be easy for the party to notice discrepancies before election results are transmitted to the national totaling center," he stressed.
Hichilema regretted that the current electoral law allowed the commission to undertake the verification process in the absence of party representatives.
"This in itself is a weakness because it subjects the election results to the mercy of individuals who could manipulate it," he told AA.
"Without these reforms, elections will continue to be stolen from deserving individuals, especially those from opposition parties," Hichilema asserted.
Zambia is scheduled to hold general elections in 2016.