Former Civic United Front secretary general Seif Sharif Hamad has defected to the Alliance for Change and Transparency -Wazalendo party, ending a three-year leadership wrangle in Zanzibar’s leading opposition party.
Mr Hamad’s defection immediately after the High Court in Dar es Salaam threw out his petition challenging Prof Ibrahim Lipumba’s chairmanship of the Civic United Front was a culmination of behind-the-scenes negotiations with three Tanzania Mainland opposition parties as he sought an exit.
ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe on Thursday joined Mr Hamad in a homecoming tour of Zanzibar where they were expected to visit Mr Hamad’s strongholds in Pemba and Unguja Islands.
The CUF enjoys a near-fanatical following in Zanzibar and made significant inroads into the Mainland during the last general election in 2015, more than doubling its MPs.
Mr Hamad holds commanding sway among party supporters whom ACT-Wazalendo hopes to welcome alongside the man they say has remained steadfast in advancing their interests since the 1990s.
Prof Lipumba, who for years worked alongside Hamad, resigned from the position of party chairman in the heat of the 2015 elections, but returned in 2016 to claim the position.
His faction has accused the government through the Registrar of Political Parties of engineering the split in the party by propping up Prof Lipumba.
One million cards
Mbarara Maharagande, a former CUF spokesperson, told The EastAfrican that at least one million membership cards had been issued to prospective defectors to ACT-Wazalendo.
“We are confident we will print as many more in the coming weeks,” he said.
Sources said that Mr Hamad’s faction settled for ACT-Wazalendo fearing stiff competition within Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) which was also likely to grapple with its own internal rivalries between their leading lights for the presidential ticket.
Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe hinted they were interested in recruiting Mr Hamad but said they have taken it in their stride his decision to join ACT-Wazalendo.
“We will work with him from his new base to strengthen our unity,” he said.
Awadhi Ali Said, a former president of Zanzibar Law Society said that Mr Hamad’s defection puts ACT-Wazalendo on equal footing with Chadema in coalition-building ahead of the 2020 elections.
“The defection also raises Mr Kabwe’s stake should he choose to run for the Union presidency, with Mr Hamad in Zanzibar,” said Mr Awadhi.
In Chadema, the defection back to CCM of 2015 opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa means the party will likely front Mr Mbowe or its firebrand Singida East MP Tundu Lissu for the top seat.
Mr Lissu is currently in Belgium, where he has been receiving treatment from injuries sustained in a failed assassination attempt in September 2017.