Why HH might not manage to win the 2026 Zambian polls

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With just 1,200 days to go before the 2026 general elections in Zambia, there are some who believe that the incumbent President, Hakainde Hichilema, will easily retain his position due to a weak and disorganized opposition. However, a closer look suggests that winning the election will be far from straightforward for Hichilema.

By Chrispa Mulenga

One key factor is the Lusaka/Copperbelt region, which has historically played a decisive role in determining the outcome of presidential elections. The ruling party has become extremely unpopular in these areas due to economic hardships, and Hichilema’s UPND party lacks a clear strategy to reverse this trend. If the party fails to gain significant support in these regions, they may struggle to achieve the necessary 50% plus 1 vote to win outright.

Another obstacle is Hichilema’s lack of natural popularity among Zambians. Unlike some previous presidents who were elected based on their perceived affability and charm, Hichilema’s intelligence, wealth, and good looks have not endeared him to the electorate. His victory in the previous election was largely due to sympathy votes and the absence of any better alternative. This vulnerability could work against him in the next election, as voters may not be as forgiving.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the immediate past ruling party, the PF, remains a formidable presence and is capable of disrupting Hichilema’s plans. If they emerge from their convention in good shape, they could pose a serious challenge to Hichilema’s re-election bid.

While there are undoubtedly other factors at play, these two issues – the importance of the Lusaka/Copperbelt region and Hichilema’s lack of natural popularity – are likely to be key challenges for the UPND party in the run-up to the 2026 elections. Winning 50% plus 1 of the vote will be crucial, and without significant support in the Lusaka/Copperbelt region, Hichilema’s path to victory may be far from assured. – Lusaka Times