Can rivals defy the odds and restrictions to upset Magufuli?

Monday October 26 2020

The campaigns were not lacking in colour nor numbers as seen by ACT-Wazalendo party supporters at a rally in Zanzibar. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG


Tanzanians go to the polls on Wednesday to vote on whether to continue with President John Pombe Magufuli’s brand of development without dissent, and whether to extend Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s record as Africa’s longest-reigning ruling party.

Voters face a clear choice. During his term President Magufuli has invested in mega infrastructure projects, including a new standard-gauge railway line, a large hydropower dam, and a fleet of aircraft for the national carrier. He has also clamped down on corruption and encouraged austerity while forcing through better deals for Tanzania from foreign companies.

Under his watch Tanzania reached lower-middle-income status in 2019 —five years ahead of schedule — after its gross national income rose to $1,080 per capita.

But President Magufuli has also stifled public debate and human rights, imposed strict restrictions on the media and civil society, and hamstrung political opponents, including a de facto ban on nationwide political activities by the opposition.

The main opposition party, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), accuses the Magufuli administration of putting projects before people and their welfare. Its presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, has promised better relations with private business including a taxpayer bill of rights, as well as greater respect for human rights and good governance. CCM counters that the opposition agenda promotes foreign interests.

Constrained by the restrictions on dissent and campaigning, the opposition goes into the election with a shaky alliance between Chadema and the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo), the other major political party.


Chadema is supporting ACT’s presidential candidate for Zanzibar Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad in exchange for ACT supporting Chadema’s Tundu Lissu on the mainland.

The authorities frown upon the “unholy union” which they see as a breach of campaign rules which require coalitions to be completed three months before campaigns start. The office in charge of registering political parties last week issued a warning to ACT-Wazalendo after Mr Lissu rallied its audience in Pemba Island.

Two-horse race

Although there are 15 presidential candidates, this year’s election is a two-horse race on the mainland and in Zanzibar. CCM’s presidential candidate for Zanzibar Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi is facing Mr Hamad who is hoping to win the seat in his sixth attempt. 

ACT-Wazalendo has dramatically ditched its presidential candidate, Bernard Membe, a former foreign affairs minister who defected to the party after he was fired from CCM. ACT’s two top leaders, chairman Hamad and supreme leader Zitto Kabwe have dramatically shifted support to Mr Lissu, whom they consider having better odds of winning.

The election remains CCM’s to lose. Formed in 1977, it boasts the longest stretch of holding power on the continent and a party register of more than 18 million adult members in a country with a total population of 57 million. This base, according to CCM’s former spokesperson Nape Nnauye, makes the party unbeatable.

The CCM juggernaut stretches across Tanzania and has allowed the party to change leaders while retaining a firm grip on the country.

CCM’s Benjamin Mkapa won the first multiparty election in 1995 with 62 percent of the vote against propaganda guru NCCR-Mageuzi’s Augustine Mrema then raised his support to 72 percent in 2000 against the uninspiring Prof Ibrahim Lipumba of CUF.

CCM’s support reached a peak in 2005 when Jakaya Kikwete, who had prepared for the job for a decade as foreign affairs minister, won with a landslide of 80 percent. This fell to 63 percent in 2010 when Kikwete ran against Dr Willibrod Slaa, Chadema’s priest-turned-politician.

Mr Magufuli was a surprise choice when he won the party nomination five years ago. He was given a run for his money by Edward Lowassa, a former prime minister who had expected to be handed the CCM baton, but held him off to win 58 percent of the vote.

CCM has suffered high profile defections, including Mr Mrema in 1995, Mr Lowassa in 2015 and Mr Membe in this election but President Magufuli, who is also the party leader, has moved to heal internal wounds and stop the bleeding.

Mr Lowassa and another former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye, have both been lured back to the ruling party, denying Chadema and Lissu the weight of their support and supporters.

Critics see a very thin line between the State and CCM, which enjoys an array of functionaries and party cadres in official positions across the country, including in the electoral commission. Strict internal discipline within the party means there is little internal disunity and dissent is swiftly punished, often by banishment.

No rallies allowed

Neither is there plenty of breathing room outside, those in the opposition say. After the 2015 election, President Magufuli argued that political activities disrupt the government’s development agenda and instructed law enforcement agencies to snuff out rallies, demonstrations and other political activities until the current campaign period.

Members of parliament and local elected officials were allowed to continue with political activities, but only in their constituencies, denying the opposition a national platform on which to build support.

Even then, police officers routinely disrupted these local political events, citing unspecified and unproven intelligence reports claiming the events carried security risks.

While the presidential directive rendered many opposition politicians redundant, their CCM counterparts continued traversing the country, effectively campaigning.

Dr Bashiru Ally, the CCM Secretary General, defended the move, saying the ruling party’s leaders were enjoying “an advantage of incumbency” which allowed them to inspect the implementation of development projects stipulated in the party’s election manifesto.

When opposition parties attempted to defy the presidential order, they were met by law enforcement. They sought relief from the courts but in 2019 the law governing political party activities was amended in a manner that the opposition said criminalised their activities and gave excessive discretionary powers to the registrar.

The legislative battle has spilled outside the country’s borders. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that a Tanzanian law which barred local courts from hearing presidential election disputes after the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has declared a winner broke international law, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government responded by withdrawing the rights of individuals and civil society organisations to sue it directly before the court. The withdrawal, which will take effect on November 22, does not affect cases already filed.

Despite the narrowed space for their activities in the past five years, opposition candidates have run vigorous and well-attended campaign rallies.

The road to power remains an obstacle course. Some opposition candidates for parliamentary and lower elected seats have been disqualified allegedly for filling in their application forms incorrectly. Other opposition candidates failed to submit their forms because NEC offices were either closed or officers mysteriously absent. All CCM candidates managed to correctly fill their forms and submit them in time.

A number of opposition candidates, including Mr Lissu and Mr Hamad, have also been suspended from campaigning for between five and seven days allegedly for flouting the election code of conduct, including addressing supporters by the roadside. The incumbent, who has stopped by the roadside several times to greet locals, hasn’t been similarly sanctioned.

- Additional reporting by Patty Magubira.