Zambia is heading for the polls just 18 months after the last presidential election, which saw Edgar Lungu win by less than 28,000 votes. Zambia has been hailed as one of Africa’s most stable and mature democracies. It has held regular multi-party elections since 1991, including in 2011 when President Rupiah Banda lost, accepted defeat and stepped down. 
This coming election is being contested under new rules. The country’s constitution was amended in response to the deaths of two sitting presidents in less than five years, which meant early elections on both occasions.  Under the new rules, a presidential candidate is required to have a running mate who will become vice-president and take over if the president dies in office.
For the first time, the election winner should secure a minimum vote of 50% of the ballots cast; failure to do so will result in a second round of elections to be held within 37 days of the vote. Therefore the president should gain the support of a wider cross-section of society in Zambia. In addition to the election, the people will also be voting in a constitutional referendum on the same day, to decide whether to amend the bill of rights. The bill of rights includes the right to food, shelter, employment and healthcare; it also bans homosexual acts, abortion and raises the age of consent to 19.
However, many civil society groups in the country have criticised the decision to hold a referendum question in parallel to the general election. Their views entail that, amending the bill of rights in the constitution is a matter of such gravity that it should be addressed on its own merits, without influence from the positions taken by political leaders.
There are nine presidential candidates in the upcoming election. Current President Lungu, 59, of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and Hakainde Hichelema, 54, of the United Party for National Development (UPND), are the front-runners. Both men stood in last year’s election, which Mr Lungu narrowly won.  Before becoming president, Mr Lungu, a lawyer, served in Mr Sata’s government as minister for justice and defence. He also held several leadership positions within his party.
This election will be his ultimate test as he has to convince voters on why they should extend his mandate; given the challenges the country is dealing with. Lungu enjoys support mainly in his home area of Eastern province, the capital, Lusaka, and the Copperbelt plus the Bemba-speaking regions of the country. Mr Hichilema is a wealthy businessman, who has contested nearly all elections in Zambia since 2006. He enjoys overwhelming support in the Southern Province, his home region. Hichilema is a highly educated economist and has a solid track record in the private sector; he has promised to bring the same sound economic management to the country if elected. Other contenders include Edith Nawakwi, the only female candidate who is a veteran politician standing for the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD). Former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, a former secretary general of the PF is running for the Rainbow Party.
The key issues in this presidential election include growing youth unemployment, poverty, education, healthcare and an ailing economy. A couple of years ago, Zambia was hailed as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. The country has also been facing a drought and an acute power shortage which have adversely affected the economy. The opposition UPND accuses President Lungu of presiding over the “collapse” of the economy. The opposition blames the country’s economic problems on both poor economic policies and a lack of fiscal discipline by the government.
The early prediction on the election results have suggested that Thursday’s election in Zambia is a tight two-horse race between the ruling PF and the opposition UPND. Both Lungu and his main challenger Hichilema are both keen to avoid a run-off. The 2016 Zambia election has undoubtedly become one of the country’s most uncertain; just two days before the elections, violence broke out at a rally organized by the PF – his supporters reportedly attacked UPND cadres in Mtendere, a low income settlement in Lusaka. The stakes are high and the defeated party’s willingness to accept the electoral results will, to a large extent, be determined by the credibility of the electoral process. 
 Bloomberg. 2016. Zambian Constitution Changes Set Rules for August Elections. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-05/zambian-constitution-changes-set-rules-for-august-elections. [Accessed: 7 August 2016].
 Zambia’s election is too close to call. Available at: http://www.dw.com/en/zambias-election-is-too-close-to-call/a-19461565.[ Accessed; 8 August 2016].
 Sishuwa, S. 2016. ‘Zambia’s 2016 elections: is a disputed outcome now inevitable?’
http://africanarguments.org/2016/06/01/zambias-2016-elections-is-a-disputed-outcome-now-inevitable/. [Accessed: 9 August 2016]