The stage was set last week for a showdown on October 31, when Tanzania goes into its most tense general election ever, with incumbent presidential candidate Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete trailing an opposition candidate in one of the three opinion polls, for the first time.
Political analysts say Kikwete, 60, and the ruling Chama cha Mapenduzi have failed to prevent corruption, and with government performance becoming the central issue of the poll, then the once unthinkable — the CCM losing power for the first time since Independence — is looking like an outside possibility come Sunday.
For a country that has been known for political stability, Tanzania’s election this time round is like no other: A first-time opposition candidate, Willbrod Slaa of the Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), whose candidature was a political gamble that is paying off, throwing the race wide open; last-minute electoral reforms; talk of rigging and fear of violence.
The second election after former president Julius Nyerere died is being held at a time the gap between the rich and poor is growing, although more money is being made from the country’s extractive industries, taxes and inflation are high and there are unprecedented levels of corruption both in the economy and the political process.
The arena this time round will be mainland Tanzania and not Zanzibar, after constitutional reforms that obligate the party that wins the election to form a government of national unity for that island only.
An opinion poll by non-government organisation Tanzania Citizens Information Bureau found that if elections were held between September 27 and October 10, Dr Willbrod Slaa, 62, would obtain 45 per cent of the votes cast against Kikwete’s 41 per cent.
Two earlier polls, one by the Synovate group and the other by a University of Dar es Salaam think tank, showed that Kikwete would win with 61 per cent and 71 per cent respectively.
Analysts say that in the eyes of the public, CCM has gradually deviated from its founding values — fighting corruption, ensuring less spending on government administration and provision of social services — and that its leadership is firmly in the pockets of the capitalist class.
At the same time, Chadema, a 1992 breakaway from CCM — then led by Edwin Mutei, former governor and finance minister who disagreed with Nyerere, his boss then, on fiscal policy — has been making the fight against corruption the key plank of its electoral platform.
This play of perceptions seems to be earning Dr Slaa political mileage, and troubling Kikwete’s advisers.
For instance, Kikwete is campaigning for Edward Lowassa, former prime minister to return to parliament, even though the latter was forced to resign because of the Richmond scandal, where he presided over an illegal procurement deal of fake and over priced thermal generators.
“Kikwete’s association with such people, and campaigning for them, contradicts CCM’s founding principles and introduces a credibility gap in CCM,” said Azaveri Lwaitama, a political analyst and don at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Secondly, the calibre of leaders in CCM has changed over the years; in Nyerere’s era, wealthy members of the party were not allowed to take up leadership positions as per the organisation’s leadership code. Currently, the wealthy are calling the shots at CCM, Dr Lwaitama said.
Kikwete has also been accused of looking on politicians and bureaucrats close to CCM and allocating houses formerly owned by the government to themselves.
On his part, Kikwete has made the economy the centre of his campaign, pledging infrastructural development, job creation and improvement in agriculture.
He recently signed a new mining law that increases royalties paid to government from 3 to 4 per cent, and separates mining areas for small-scale miners and artisans from the bigger companies to avoid conflict.
Last week, Kikwete told a campaign rally in Mbinga District of Ruvuma region that his government would bail the Mbinga Co-operative Union out of a Tsh400 million ($269,000) debt it owes coffee farmers. He pledged to refurbish Mbamba Bay port and buy a new 400-tonne ship.
It appears that Chadema’s choice of presidential candidate was designed to exploit the frictions within CCM and expose the mismatch between its founding principles and the current reality.
Dr Slaa crossed from CCM to Chadema in 1995 after the party did not let him contest a political post for which he had won the primaries. He stood on the Chadema ticket to represent Karato District in parliament and won.
The catholic priest-turned-politician, who has built a reputation of himself as a man who speaks his mind and fearlessly fights corruption, brought his social-democratic values to a Chadema till then known as a centrist outfit.
Dr Slaa has pledged to cut the salary of the president by 20 per cent and those of Members of Parliament by 15 per cent.
He has also promised to make social services like education and healthcare free, reduce the size of government, cut taxes and fight graft.
“Our party and campaign follow a philosophy of people’s power, and an ideology of a centrist politics,” said John Mnyika, acting secretary general of Chadema.
Other notable presidential candidates are Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, 58, of the Civic United Front, who is contesting for the fourth time and Hashim Rungwe of the National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR-Mageuzi).
But the opinion polls showed the election turning into a two-horse race between Kikwete and Dr Slaa. Other elections to be held are for Members of Parliament and district leaders.
Fear of rigging, violence
The opposition has accused the ruling party of using state resources to facilitate its campaign. There are fears of rigging and ultimately violence during and after the election.
The Electoral Commission has said that there are about 19 million registered voters, “However, scientific demographic surveys indicate that there cannot be more than 16 million voters in Tanzania,” said Ismail Jussa, CUF deputy secretary general.
“Electoral corruption has never reached this level: There are politicians out there buying votes, but nothing is being done to curb this,” Mr Jussa added.
NCCR’s Mr Rungwe also told The EastAfrican that politicians were giving out Tsh2,000 (less than $2) each to voters in regions such as Kagera at night.
The opposition is also accusing CCM of training militias ahead of the election and calling them green guards.
The Electoral Commission has announced that it will collect and tally results electronically, instead of waiting for hard copy forms from the numerous polling stations. “We have asked that opposition parties send their information technology experts to observe, because such a system is prune to be manipulated, but the Commission has not responded,” said Mr Mnyika.
There are concerns with the electoral legal framework. The Elections Act 1995 provides for a National Electoral Commission to be appointed by the president, which in turn appoints district election officials who happen to be government officials.
A recent amendment provided for the Commission to appoint officials, in the event that district executive directors cannot supervise elections in the areas, but such new appointees are also civil servants. “The Electoral Commission is not independent,” Chadema’s Mnyika told The EastAfrican.