Zambia votes with high turnout in test for ruling party

Zambians have started voting in presidential and parliamentary elections after a campaign marred by violence between rival groups.

The European Observer Mission which fielded at least 120 monitors commended Zambians on the large and peaceful turnout on Thursday.

Chief Observer Cecile Kyenge told reporters in Lusaka that at least half of the polling stations across the Southern African nation had opened on time at 0600 hours while the rest opened within less than an hour behind schedule.

“We are happy to see so many people coming to vote – it shows that Zambians understand the importance of elections and they value their democratic rights,” she said at Kalingalinga Middle School in eastern Lusaka.

Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from a polling station in the capital, Lusaka, said there were queues of hundreds of people waiting to cast their ballots from early on Thursday morning.

“Zambians have heeded the call of campaigners to come out and vote in their numbers,” she said. “But the opposition has grave concerns that the build-up to the election and possibly the vote itself will not be free and fair.”

First-time voter, Humphrey Mukungwa, 22, a supermarket shelf packer, told Al Jazeera that he was happy to cast his vote but worried about political tensions in his neighbourhood, Mtendere, a poor part of eastern Lusaka.

“I’ve never had the chance to vote before and now the day has come and I feel like I have done something important,” he said.

“My only worry now is for our security after the voting. We need more police manpower to stop the fighting between the ruling party and the opposition.”

Amos Chanda, special assistant and presidential spokesperson told Al Jazeera that police had been deployed at strategic points across Zambia to minimize the risk of post-vote tensions.