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LUSAKA: Zambians were voting in a general election on Thursday after a tense campaign dominated by economic woes, a debt crisis and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sixteen presidential candidates are vying for the top job, but the frontrunners are incumbent Edgar Lungu, 64, and his long-time rival Hakainde Hichilema, a business tycoon, who are facing off at the polls for the third time. Hichilema, 59, who is running for a sixth time, is backed by an alliance of 10 parties.

After voting shortly after polls opened at 6am (0400 GMT) Lungu exuded confidence he would retain the job he had held for the past six years.

"We are winning, otherwise I wouldn't have been in the race if we were not winning, we are a winning team," the upbeat Lungu told reporters outside a nursery school in Chawama, a poor neighbourhood of Lusaka.

But a flagging economy and rising living costs have eroded his support base in recent years, surveys suggest, and the election could be even tighter than 2016 polls when he narrowly scraped a victory over Hichilema.

Lungu, a lawyer by training, is accused of borrowing unsustainably, particularly from Chinese creditors, to finance a spree of infrastructure projects.

Under him, Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt since the coronavirus pandemic began, while inflation soared to 24.6 percent in June, the highest rate in more than a decade.

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