LUSAKA – Electoral campaigns took off in the southern African country of Zambia on Wednesday in the run-up to elect the president and national assembly scheduled on Aug. 12.

A total of 19 candidates including incumbent Edgar Lungu are planning to contest presidential polls. They have paid a participation fee of 95,000 Zambian kwacha ($4245) to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).

Lungu is expected to file his nomination in the capital Lusaka next week amidst speculation about his eligibility.

He assumed office after winning the by-election in 2015 after the death of incumbent Michael Sata in 2014. Some legal experts say he has held office twice and as per constitutional provisions, he is not illegible to contest election a third time.

But his supporters say the Zambian constitution stipulates that a full term of office must run for three to five years and Lungu has only served a year and a half before the 2016 general elections.

The constitutional court has ruled that Lungu can run again and his party the Patriotic Front (PF) has allotted him an adoption certificate to declare him the preferred candidate to contest on the party ticket.

Offering Lungu stiff competition is Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the country’s biggest opposition political party the United Party for National Development (UPND).

He has unsuccessfully contested the presidential elections five times. He is now expected to unseat the ruling party after stitching the alliance with other political parties.

He has aligned with former Finance Minister Felix Mutati who is now a leader for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a former associate of the president, who is now challenging Lungu’s eligibility.

The ruling party says it is unfazed by the opposition alliance. The party Secretary General Davies Mwila claimed that Lungu has done enough for Zambians to get re-elected.

The electoral commission met political stakeholders in Lusaka on Monday and its Chairman Esau Chulu urged for peaceful and non-violent campaigns.

Chulu also reminded politicians to minimize large crowd gatherings during campaign meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lungu is expected to dissolve parliament soon, a move which will also cause his ministers to vacate office and provide a level playing field in the campaign. He will himself, however, remain in office as per constitutional requirements until the new president is elected. Anadolu Agency