Zanzibar political rift widens after rerun standoff

Sunday February 14 2016

CUF supporters after cancellation of Zanzibar

CUF supporters after cancellation of Zanzibar election results on October 30, 2015. FILE PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP

By CHRISTOPHER KIDANKA

The political crisis in Zanzibar following a cancellation of the October election results could worsen following a boycott of the planned rerun by the majority of political parties.

Two commissioners of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) have also disputed the decision to announce a rerun, a factor the electoral body says will have no effect on the election.

With the withdrawal of nine opposition parties, including the Civic United Front (CUF) — which had declared victory in last year’s election — the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) will face only three parties.

CCM officials have downplayed the widening political crisis, saying the election boycott by the nine opposition parties neither bothers the ruling party nor renders the election illegitimate.

Nape Nnauye, CCM Publicity and Ideology Secretary told The EastAfrican that his party will go to the poll regardless of who is boycotting because “not all political parties have been fielding candidates in every election.”

ZEC chairman, Jecha Salum Jecha was not available to comment on the CUF commissioners boycott but Harold Sungusia, director of Advocacy and Empowerment at Legal and Human Rights Centre said ZEC has a legal mandate to supervise the election rerun because article 119 of Zanzibar Constitution says the decision of the commission shall be reached by the majority of its commissioners.

“Provided the majority are not objecting the rerun then the election shall be legal; but in my opinion the commission has no moral authority to supervise even the election of class one monitor because it had already messed up in the previous election,” he said.

The human rights watchdog official said ZEC had annulled the election citing a number of irregularities such as votes exceeding the number of registered voters in some polling centres, and fighting of some members of the commission, things which render ZEC incompetent.

International spotlight

The development puts Zanzibar in the international spotlight as political observers fear for tough political times ahead due to collapse of talks between CCM and CUF under which a peaceful solution was expected.

The Commonwealth had appointed former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as a mediator in the crisis in December to steer the mediation efforts but he was reportedly ignored.

The two commissioners, Ayoub Bakari Hamad and Nassor Khamis Mohammed, blamed ZEC chairman Mr Salum Jecha for nullifying the outcome of the October election, and called for an international mediator to help resolve the situation.

“We call upon the rest of the ZEC members to ignore the rerun of the elections because it won’t be in the national interest to take part in an exercise that will tarnish the image and history of Zanzibar,” said Mr Mohammed.

The diplomatic corps in Tanzania came out strongly to dispute the decision to nullify the election with political commentators fearing that the tense situation could impact the relationship between the government and the international community.

Hanne-Marie Kaarstad, Norwegian ambassador to Tanzania refuted claims that she had visited Zanzibar and met with CUF officials despite the latter confirming to the media that she had done so. Instead, the embassy said a senior official from the embassy had visited both CCM and CUF offices in Zanzibar.

Dianna Melrose, the British High Commissioner to Tanzania who was  seen as one of key persons in co-ordinating diplomatic efforts on Zanzibar was replaced on Tuesday by the British government. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the Tanzanian government had complained to the British government about her role in Zanzibar, with the government accusing the diplomats of siding with the opposition.

In an unprecedented move, President John Magufuli did not attend a traditional cherry party organised in State House last week. The annual event usually brings together the president and diplomatic corps to discuss various issues of interest.

The main opposition Chadema has criticised President Magufuli’s decision not to attend the party saying he would have used the time to describe to the international community what the government was doing to resolve the Zanzibar political situation. The President was represented by the minister responsible for foreign affairs, Dr Augustine Mahiga.

Alley Nassor, a senior lecturer at the Zanzibar State University called for the resumption of the mediation talks and the revamping of the ZEC to allow a future rerun to be administered by an independent electoral commission.

Dr Nassor further said that CCM Zanzibar was using the advantage of the Union government to defy calls for holding a democratic election to do whatever it wanted regardless of its future political implications.

“All electoral disputes since 1995 are caused by the mere fact that the electoral process isn’t free and fair, therefore, we need to come up with a permanent solution administered by an international mediator,” said Dr Nassor. “CCM isn’t concerned about threats to suspend aid because they know they have support from the mainland.”