Tensions rise in Tanzania as ruling party takes early lead

Monday October 26 2015

Election workers prepare to count ballots after Tanzania's General Election using an electric lamp to light the space at a polling station in Dar es Salaam on October 25, 2015. AFP PHOTO | DANIEL HAYDUK

An opposition candidate in Zanzibar unilaterally declared himself the winner of the island’s presidential election and security agents arrested 191 people during a night raid on opposition tally centres amidst rising tensions as results of Tanzania’s most competitive election since Independence started trickling in.

Official results released on Monday by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) put John Pombe Magufuli, the presidential candidate of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, in the lead, winning 10 of the 264 constituencies reporting, while his main rival, Edward Lowassa of Chadema won in three.

The official tally released so far by Monday evening were from marginal constituencies and likely to change when results from bigger regions come in. Some 23 million Tanzanians were registered to vote and more than half of all voters live in nine major regions of the country, none of which was yet to report fully by press time.

However, Mr Lowassa, who ran under the Ukawa opposition alliance, accused NEC of selectively releasing results from CCM strongholds and warned that delays in announcing official results could inflame tensions after the arrests of the party’s tally centre officials.

“All they were doing is collating results from polling stations across the country,” Mr Lowassa said at a press conference on Monday. “We have been incapacitated, all our tallying centres have been raided and the volunteers incarcerated. This is so unfair.”

The whereabouts of the detainees, reportedly picked up during raids on different facilities in Dar es Salaam between midnight and the wee hours of Monday morning, were unknown by press time.


Zanzibar a bellwether

In Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, the candidate of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), which is part of the Ukawa alliance, said he had received 200,077 votes to 178,363 for the incumbent and CCM candidate, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein in what would be the first ever defeat for the ruling party in the island’s presidential elections.

“We call on the [Zanzibar Electoral Commission] to declare the result without delay, and we call on Dr Shein to end any uncertainty and concede defeat,” CUF said in a statement. “The longer the announcement is delayed the more room there is for those who will try to manipulate and change the outcome.”

By 5pm on Monday, however, NEC was yet to announce full results from the islands and partial results still put the CCM candidate in the lead.

Many see Zanzibar as a bellwether for Tanzanian politics after bloody clashes followed a tightly-contested election in 2000. CUF lost narrowly to CCM in the 2010 election but the rival parties agreed on a power-sharing arrangement to avoid tensions and violence.

Mr Seif’s supporters chanted slogans of support Monday after the announcement but at a press conference in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, CCM’s election coordinators January Makamba urged the ruling party’s supporters to ignore unofficial results making the rounds on social media.

There was no official response to the declaration by the Zanzibar electoral officials but the head of NEC, Justice Damian Lubuva called for patience as he delivered the second batch of official results on Monday afternoon. NEC has promised to announce the final results by Thursday and the new President is scheduled to be sworn in on November 5.

Tight contest

Early results from the parliamentary elections suggested a tight contest between the two parties. By 5pm official results showed CCM and Chadema neck-and-neck having won 12 and nine seats respectively out of the 265-seat Parliament.

Early exit interviews suggested that CCM, which had 186 of the 239 seats in the last Parliament, would win a smaller majority this time round.  

After a polling day that was widely heralded for being peaceful, reports of skirmishes between supporters of the two main political parties started trickling in from different parts of the country.  

Police in Tandahimba, Mtwara Region in the southeast of the country said they were holding eight people for allegedly invading and destroying the house of an election supervisor in Nanyamba Province.

In Tarime, northern Tanzania, a 36-year-old opposition supporter was stabbed to death in a dispute with a CCM supporter on Sunday night, authorities said.

The election has been the most tightly contested since Tanzania returned to multiparty politics in 1992. The two leading candidates were both members of CCM, giving the race to succeed retiring President Jakaya Kikwete an intense rivalry and inflaming passions in a society often stereotyped for the reticence of its citizens.