Tanzania votes, pundits trace democracy in poll

Thursday, October 29th, 2020 00:00 |
Tanzanian police officers patrol outside Garagara Playground polling station in Mtoni, Zanzibar, yesterday. There were reports of chaos in some stations as citizens trooped to voting booths to elect their president. Photo/AFP

Dar es Salaam, Wednesday

Tanzanians are voting in the presidential election preceded by a government crackdown on the opposition leaders and free speech concerns under the incumbent John Magufuli.

More than 29 million people have registered to vote in Wednesday’s election to decide the fate of President Magufuli, who is seeking re-election. Voting will be allowed until 4pm local time (13:00 GMT).

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has been in power since independence in 1961.

Leader of the East African nation’s top opposition parties, Freeman Mbowe of CHADEMA, on Wednesday said “my life was in danger”, claiming his hotel was raided and two of his armed security guards were taken.

Long deemed a haven of stability in East Africa, local and international observers say Tanzania has seen a worrying crackdown on the opposition and freedom of speech under President Magufuli.

Magufuli, 60, is seeking a second and final five-year term in office. While opinion polls have been banned, making it difficult to predict the outcome, many analysts see Magufuli as having strong chances of re-election.

His top opposition challenger is Tundu Lissu, a survivor of an assassination attempt in 2017, who returned from exile earlier this year to campaign.

He was banned from campaigning for a week earlier this month by authorities who accused him of making seditious comments.

Lissu has urged people to stage protests on streets if election results are announced on Thursday without being counted properly. Whoever receives the most votes wins, with no second round.

Lissu posted on social media on Wednesday alleging “widespread irregularities” as voting got underway, including stuffed ballot boxes in some locations.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi reporting from Nairobi said there was a “lot of concern from ordinary Tanzanian people”, who were worried what might happen if the opposition “senses defeat.”

“We have been hearing very aggressive  word from the opposition in mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar using very aggressive tones,” Soi added.

“Everyone has the duty to protect the legitimacy of this general election,” The Citizen newspaper said in an opinion article on Wednesday, reminding readers that “for decades, Tanzania has been an island of peace”.

The opposition faces a major challenge in trying to unseat the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, as 15 presidential candidates seek a win, splitting support.

Tanzania Elections Watch, a regional initiative of prominent personalities, has pointed out hate speech and intimidation of candidates and said the election would be flawed if held under current conditions.

“There are legitimate concerns that the heavy police and army deployment across Zanzibar is intimidating residents and creating fear and despondency that could deter voters from turning out,” Tanzania Elections Watch said in a statement on Wednesday. It warned that actions by security forces have created a “climate of fear”.

Internet services slowed ahead of the vote. Fewer major election observers will be present, some saying they were not invited by the government, and the opposition said authorities made it difficult to accredit thousands of their own observers.

Deadly violence erupted ahead of the vote as Tanzania’s another top opposition party, ACT Wazalendo, accused police of shooting dead nine people in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.

Meanwhile, CHADEMA accused the governing party supporters of shooting dead two people at a rally in a town in the northeast.

The main opposition leader says there has been “shameless” widespread vote rigging in Wednesday’s elections.

But the National Electoral Commission says the accusations are unfounded.

Internet users have also reported WhatsApp and Twitter, among other sites, have been blocked. Voting has been calm and peaceful on the mainland after reports of violence in Zanzibar on Tuesday.

Polls closed and election results are expected within a week.

President John Magufuli, whose Chama Cha Mapenduzi (CCM) party has governed Tanzania for decades, is seeking a second term in office.

His main challenger is expected to be Lissu, who survived an assassination attempt three years ago.

He returned from Belgium in July where he had undergone rounds of treatment for gunshot wounds.

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