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Lusaka, Zambia – As Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was proclaimed victor of the presidential elections on Sunday, the Zambian capital, Lusaka, erupted in celebrations that lasted late into the night as supporters sung, danced and waved his party’s flags.
Hichilema, 59, of the United Party for National Development (UPND) won by a landslide 2.8 million votes, trailed by incumbent Edgar Lungu’s 1.8 million ballots.
The turnout in the August 12 general election was the highest since the 1991 ballot when Zambia held its first multiparty elections, with those below 40 years of age constituting more than half the electorate.
After the celebrations, street sweeper Joseph Phiri, 28, collected rubbish at the independence roundabout and scraped away tattered posters of Lungu from walls.
Like many younger Zambians, Phiri hopes the election of a new leader will see an end to growing authoritarianism in the country and to better economic prospects.
Under Lungu, who came to power in 2015, the authorities were often criticised for the suppression of freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Phiri remembers the running battles between the police and protesters when he became a street cleaner in the capital, two years ago.
“Whenever people came here to protest they would be quickly arrested, there was no peace. Everyone would be chased by the police even if you were working, it’s like we were being controlled by the police and there was no freedom for anyone. I hope it will be different now,” he told Al Jazeera.
As the sweeper cleared away the litter of an intense presidential campaign, droves of motorists whizzed past hooting and chanting “Forward! Forward!”, the slogan of the UPND.
Many of the red-clad supporters hope Hichilema, popularly known as HH, will usher in an era of greater freedom and prosperity.
Lungu has rejected the result, saying the election was not free and fair and alleging electoral violence in three provinces which culminated in the alleged murder of a candidate for the ruling Patriotic Front.
Officials from the UPND dismissed Lungu’s statement as people “trying to throw out the entire election just to cling on to their…