Tension in Tanzania after elections

The ruling party’s candidate, John Magufuli, has been declared winner of the elections in Tanzania. However, the situation is tense and the opposition cries foul play. It is particularly complicated at Zanzibar, where the elections were called off completely after serious irregularities. New NAI researcher Sirkku Hellsten, until recently professor at the University in Dar es Salam, analyzes the elections.

The National Election Commission (NEC) has just declared the CCM candidate Magufuli President with a convincing lead to the opposition candidate Edward Lowassa. The new president will be inaugurated either tomorrow Friday or the day after. While many supporters in urban centers throughout the country, who voted for the opposition candidate Edward Lowassa are in a very gloomy mood, opposition leaders including Lowassa have appealed for calm.

Opposition with high expectations

What makes the situation very complicated still is also that the election process in Zanzibar has been annulled by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission on Wednesday 27th due to serious irregularities such as that the Commissioners were seen as partisan; at some polling stations, especially in Pemba, the votes cast were more than the registered voters; the ballots were not protected well by polling agents and electoral officials in Pemba; some party agents were thrown out of polling stations; youths invaded polling stations with intention of causing chaos; and alleged interference by political parties.In addition, the opposition candidate in Zanzibar Seif Sharif Hamad (incumbent vice-president) already on Monday declared himself as the winner, and thereafter the main opposition candidate on the mainland Tanzania also calls for cancellation of Tanzania’s all poll results due to claimed widespread fraud.
Tanzania has been an example of stability in the region with generally peaceful elections.  This year, however, Tanzania held its probably most exciting ever general elections. It was widely predicted that the race would be tight, and even that it might be the time when the ruling CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi) –party, which has been in power since the country’s independence 1961, may finally have to give way to the opposition. The main opposition parties, for their part, were able to stand by one candidate and appear more united than ever before since Tanzania transitioned to multiparty democracy in 1992.

There was much at stake. Some even say that the elections were going to show the direction of Tanzanian democratic development. From the beginning the preparations for elections and the campaigning were colored with controversies and tensions. There were clear fragmentations and disputes within the ruling party CCM on who will be its flag bearer in the elections. The quite unexpected defections by senior members of the inner cadre of the party added to the political drama just before the elections. They also increased the high expectations of the opposition supporters.

CCM defector to be opposition candidate

The key element of the elections was ‘the call for change’ by the people, and especially the youth. It was not clear what kind of change, but there has been a clear discontent on the state of democracy and the level of corruption in Tanzania for quite some time. Neither is it not evident how this expected change towards better governance could be achieved – as rather surprisingly - the opposition in the end chose as its candidate Edward Lowassa who was a central political force within the CCM until his party rejected him as their presidential candidate. Lowassa, in fact, was former Prime Minister in president Kikwete’s government and indeed the one who was forced to step down because a mega-corruption scandal, the so called Richmond affair. In the end the CCM elected John Magufuli, the former Minister of Works, to bring home the victory. To many it was a surprise that the opposition welcomed Lowassa with open arms as their candidate even if this meant sidelining their own ‘strong men’.

The change in power relations does not appear to turn out to be as big as expected – and hoped for by many. While several high-level CCM candidates lost their seats in the elections, the ruling party is succeeding to keep a convincing majority of the parliamentary seats. This has led the opposition to cry fault. Nevertheless, the opposition gained votes particularly in the Northern regions of the country. Currently both sides are calling for recount of the votes and bringing  their cases to the court.   

Fear of violence

These elections were significant also in a sense that for the first time in Tanzanian history there were genuine fears of election related violence. At the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago, elections have always brought tensions and led to skirmishes and to some violence, but this time there has been fear that the anxiety could cause the violence to spread across the country. Indeed, there have been some local unrests and violent incidents between the supports of the ruling party and those of opposition. Security agents have also used excessive force to calms these down. However, for the most part, Tanzanians have been waiting patiently for the final results.

While most of the observation missions have declared the elections credible, free and fair, irregularities were also reported. In any case, these elections have led into serious political confusion in the country, and particularly what comes to the stability of the Union. There are many issues that need to be cleared in relation to the elections, and particularly in relation to Zanzibar electoral process.

First test of democracy with a united opposition

The elections were the first real test of Tanzanian democracy and could shatter the unwavering stability that has been hallmark to the country and widely priced in the region. Tanzanians are proud of never have been involved in ethnic violence or elections violence unlike the neighbors in the region, such as Kenya, Burundi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and even Uganda.

This was also the first time the main opposition parties succeeded to unify behind one candidate. While there still were several opposition candidates, the strongest opposition parties were able to avoid the splitting of the votes by supporting one candidate. The unification of opposition started actually already earlier this year during the contested constitution making process. The opposition parties under the label Ukawa (People’s constitution) walked out from the Parliament in protest of the way the ruling party’s was manipulating the process and forcing their favored draft constitution to referendum.  The referendum was later cancelled due to this pressure and due to the up-coming general elections.

Knowing the tricks of the ruling party

The choice of the opposition’s final candidate indeed was a surprise to many. However, Edward Lowassa had money, influence, and a rather wide support outside his former party. He also knows the secrets and tricks of the ruling party. Having such an insider on their side, was surely seen to give the opposition new powers – especially when they have had hard time finding a strong enough candidate to compete with the CCM and its national networks and resources. However, the fact that Lowassa had been implicated in one of the major corruption scandals in the country may have some kickback effects. After all, the major policy agenda of the opposition was its call for clean governance and for serious fight against corruption. Their choice of a candidate made this agenda doubtful in the eyes of some voters.

How the process will be taken from here and whether the calls for peace and patience will be respected by the voters remains still to be seen, and indeed may decide Tanzanian political direction and the faith of the country’s democratization process for the future.

                                                                                                 by SIRKKU HELLSTEN

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