Tanzania's political opposition has been left badly crippled as results trickling in from this week’s controversy-ridden general election signalled an over 98 percent majority for the ruling CCM party in the next parliament.
By late Friday CCM had swept all but two of the 222 legislative seats already decided out of total 264 up for grabs, and incumbent John Magufuli had secured 83 percent of the presidential vote against 14 percent for his chief challenger Tundu Lissu.
Leaders of the three leading opposition parties had lost their races.
In Zanzibar, Dr Hussein Mwinyi also of CCM was formally declared Zanzibar’s new president as his main rival Seif Shariff Hamad of the ACT-Wazalendo party languished behind bars after being earlier arrested amid incidents of sporadic clashes between the police and Mr Hamad’s supporters.
Various sections of the international community continued to question the credibility of the ruling party’s “overwhelming” triumph and mull over allegations of election fraud including ballot box stuffing, repeat voting, intimidation of opposition party agents at voting stations, and widespread social media blocking.
Mr Lissu has rejected the outcome of the election, which he called a “shameless fraud”.
On Friday afternoon the US government’s top official on African Affairs at the State Department, Tibor Nagy said Washington was “deeply concerned” about reports of rigging. “We continue to review credible allegations of the use of force against unarmed civilians,” he said on Twitter.
One of the first pronouncements by John Pombe Magufuli when he took power in Tanzania in 2015 was that he would destroy the opposition in the country.
Critics say the 2015 pronouncement has been literal. Mr Lissu was shot 16 times in 2017 while attending a parliamentary session in Dodoma, the administrative capital. The gunmen remain at large.
Tanzania’s result continues a regional trend of weakening opposition parties and what reformists say is a reversal of democratic gains. Like Magufuli before him, after being declared winner of Uganda’s 2016 election, President Yoweri Museveni vowed to destroy the opposition by 2021. He heads into next year’s election having worn down long-term political rival Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, against whom he has contested four times since 2001.
In Tanzania and Uganda, the opposition has withered under legislative obstacles and strong law enforcement while the ruling CCM and National Resistance Movement respectively have thrived tilling the fertile soils of incumbency. Nicodemus Minde, a Tanzanian political commentator, says President Magufuli’s promise to destroy the opposition by 2020 has come true.
In June 2016 Magufuli’s administration rolled out a blanket ban on political parties organising political activities and rallies outside election campaign time, while a number of opposition leaders have been attacked or charged in court.
In September 2017 brawls broke out in the Ugandan Parliament during a controversial debate to lift the presidential age limit, which would have knocked Mr Museveni, in power since 1986, out of contention in next year’s election. Opposition activities are routinely disrupted, and the government has used social distancing rules introduced to contain the coronavirus pandemic to ban public rallies ahead of the election. But when the ruling NRM held its parliamentary primaries candidates, including cabinet ministers, held rallies and campaigned freely.
The youthful musician-turned-MP Robert ‘Bobi Wine’ Kyagulanyi of the National Unity Platform (NUP), who is seen as the biggest threat to the incumbent next year, has been banned from holding music concerts. An aide was shot dead in the politician’s car and, like Besigye before him, Kyagulanyi has been arrested several times but has never been convicted.
Harold Acemah, a retired Ugandan diplomat, says reports of the death of the opposition in Uganda are exaggerated. He says the emergence of new parties, including NUP and the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) led by Mugisha Muntu, a former army commander, show resilience and vitality in the opposition ranks. Yet none of the opposition parties is able to field candidates in all constituencies. FDC, the biggest opposition party in Parliament, will only field candidates in 280 out of 517 constituencies.
In Rwanda and Kenya, the lines between government and the opposition are often blurred. Among the 11 registered political parties in Rwanda, only the Democratic Green Party has two seats, with the rest of the parties in loose cooperation with the ruling RPF party. Similar cooperation emerged in Kenya in March 2018 after Raila Odinga, the leader of the largest party—Orange Democratic Party (ODM)—decided to cooperate with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party. Mr Odinga is now pushing for the implementation of the Building Bridges Initiative—a constitutional amendment programme which President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga say will unite the country by expanding the executive to accommodate the opposition.
As the only country in the region to vote a ruling party out of office, the developments in Kenya are seen as a major blow to the development of opposition parties in the region.