European Union sidelines Zanzibar over annulment of poll

Saturday June 4 2016

Election officials count votes at a polling

Election officials count votes at a polling station during polls rerun in Stone Town, Zanzibar on March 20, 2016. AFP PHOTO | DANIEL HAYDUK 

By JOSEPH KITHAMA

The European Union has taken a decision to maintain minimal contact with the government of Zanzibar President Ali Mohammed Shein, citing the decision of the Zanzibar Electoral commission (ZEC) to annul the October 2015 election results without providing evidence to justify its “unprecedented decision.”

The chief observer of the EU Election Observation Mission in Tanzania (EU-EOM), Judith Sargentini, said under a memorandum of understanding between the ZEC and EU-EOM, she will send copies of final reports to Zanzibar but ruled out a physical appearance on the Isles. She was speaking in Dar es Salaam.

Ms Sargentini said she could not launch the press conference in Zanzibar to present the final report of the last year’s polls containing proposals for reforms to improve the electoral process and enhance voters’ confidence, “because as an official of EU and member of the EU Parliament, I’m restricted by an EU order to maintain minimal contact with Zanzibar government.”

The observer said her team had declined to oversee the re-run of the disputed elections in Zanzibar held in March this year because “the conditions, and context in which the rerun was taking place, were not conducive to inclusive, genuine and credible elections.’”

The observers’ report says, in the aftermath of the nullification of election results, “The ZEC chairman was unreachable and the ZEC, as the institution for  administration and supervision of the electoral process in the Isles, became invisible.”

The rerun of election under a unilateral decision of ZEC was held on March 20 and the incumbent President Ali Mohammed Shein, running on the ticket of CCM, was declared winner having posted a landslide victory in the election that was boycotted by nine out of 14 political parties which had participated in the previous poll.

The EU final report says despite opposition parties, including the Civic United Front (CUF), formally writing to ZEC to inform it of their refusal to participate in the rerun of the  polls, ZEC declined to remove the names of contestants and political parties from the ballot papers, basing their decision on procedural arguments.

Right upto the date of departure for the 141 EU observers on December 8, 2015, ZEC had not acted with transparency in its decision to nullify the polls and had not provided any electoral stakeholder with evidence of the alleged irregularities that prompted the nullification of the elections, which had already been endorsed by local and international observers, the report says.

Cybercrimes Act

The report says the 2015 Cybercrimes Act has provisions that could be used to arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression, citing the way it was used on the mainland to seize computers from the Legal and Human Right Centre, where a domestic observer group, Tanzania Civil Society Consortium of Election Observation was hosted as well as against the main opposition party on the mainland, Chadema.

An arm of the US government, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, froze aid worth $472 million to Tanzania due to the Zanzibar political impasse and the disputed Cybercrimes Act passed by the Union parliament in the run-up to the October polls.

The report also accuses the state media, Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation and Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation, of allocating more airtime to CCM than to all other opposition parties combined.

However, privately-owned media such as AZAM TV 2, Radio One, ITV and the daily newspapers Mwananchi and Nipashe, showed a relatively balanced coverage of the campaigns.

The EOM suggested that the state-owned media of Tanzania and Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation be turned into public service broadcasters and recommended an amendment on the 2003 Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority Act to ensure its institutional independence.

Both the Union and Zanzibar elections were contested and largely well managed. However, the mainland’s National Electoral Commission and the ZEC did not provide full transparency on their decision-making processes.