LUSAKA - Boats and ox-wagons were deployed to get ballot papers to parts of Zambia hit by torrential rains as presidential elections were extended for a second day Wednesday.
A planned airlift of ballot papers and polling officers to remote villages on Tuesday was disrupted by "extreme thunderstorms" which grounded flights, election authorities said.
Voters in at least two dozen out of around 6,000 polling stations are now expected to cast ballots on Wednesday in a close-fought presidential election to replace Michael Sata, who died in office last year.
In one area, polling material will first have to be transported by boat, then the polling officers will have to walk for three hours before jumping on ox-drawn carts to polling stations, according to the electoral commission.
The delay in the delivery of polling material initially led a frontrunner in the vote, opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), to cry foul and allege fraud.
Fifty-two-year-old Hichilema, a wealthy businessman, is seen as the main challenger to Defence Minister Edgar Lungu, 58, who represents the ruling Patriotic Front (PF).
Cannot control the weather
"We have no control over the weather," said elections director Priscilla Isaacs.
The head of a Southern African observer team, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane commended the electoral body for holding a "generally peaceful" vote under "challenging" conditions.
Results started to trickle in Wednesday from a handful urban centres, but a final national tally was not expected until Friday.
The first counts in four of the 150 constituencies, showed Lungu leading in three and Hichilema in one.
The vote was triggered after Sata died in October last year from an undisclosed illness.
At stake is the remaining year and a half of his five-year term in the copper-rich southern African nation.
In the absence of reliable opinion polls, analysts hedged their bets.
"It's a two-horse race," said Oliver Saasa, CEO of Premier Consult, a business and economic consultancy firm. "It's quite clear this is a very closely run race." Hichilema's camp is seen to have received a boost from the infighting within another major opposition party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), whose candidate Nevers Mumba has little chance.
Lungu's PF, meanwhile, went into the vote badly fractured by a bitter power struggle after Sata's death in October.
With ideological differences between Zambia's political parties difficult to pin down, voting patterns are often determined by personalities and ethnicity rather than issues.
Despite growth-oriented policies and a stable economy over the past few years, at least 60 per cent of Zambia's population of 15 million lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.
About 5.2 million people were eligible to vote, but turnout is expected to be low, partly because of the weather.