Why is Tanzania’s peaceful election suddenly unraveling?

Elections in Tanzania were peaceful. Now the poll in Zanzibar has been declared invalid and the opposition on the Tanzanian mainland is demanding a recount. Andrea Schmidt asks why is this election unraveling so fast?

Tansania votes

For the first time in the history of Tanzania, there was a neck-and-neck race between two candidates – John Magufuli from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party and Edward Lowassa who leads the Ukawa opposition alliance. This was also the first time that opposition parties had joined forces to form an alliance with a realistic chance of unseating the CCM, which has been in power for more than 50 years.

These elections could have served as yet another role model for improved African democratic governance, following in the footsteps of the recent non-violent transition of power in Nigeria. Initially, Tanzania’s elections went off relatively peacefully. But then on Monday, Ukawa accused CCM of fraud and called for a recount.

The situation in Tanzania is highly volatile. Both sides have dug in deep and neither is prepared to consider compromise. But will there really be a recount of the votes or will the ruling party press ahead with the count already in progress and then declare itself the winner? And if there is a recount, who can guarantee that it will be conducted with the required transparency, or that all parties will accept the new result?

Annulment on Zanzibar

The situation on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar is equally tense. President Ali Mohamed Shein from the CCM is locked in a tight race with his rival Seif Sharif Hamad from the Civic United Front (CUF). The CUF had protested during earlier elections – in 1995, 2000 and 2005 – of massive electoral fraud, claiming it had been robbed of victory at the polls.

In the run-up to Sunday’s poll, attempts were made to intimidate opposition supporters and some were even physically attacked. Yet polling day in Zanzibar, too, was relatively peaceful and the results were supposed to be announced on Wednesday. But after the opposition leader Sief Sharif Hamad declared himself the winner on Monday and insisted that election commission recognize his victory, police and military stepped in and cordoned off the election commission’s premises. International observers were stranded inside for several hours.

Tansanian candidate Seif Sharif Hamad
Seif Sharif Hamad declared himself the winner prior to the release of the results. The vote has since been annulled

Hamad’s bid to declare himself the winner badly misfired. The counting of the votes then took longer than expected and the election commission has since accused the opposition of mass voter fraud and Sharif of having declared himself the winner illegally. The election was then annulled and fresh elections will have to be held within 90 days. The CUF has rejected this and is still insisting that it be recognized as the winner. Apparently there were altercations within the election commission itself because some of its members were pursuing party interests rather than maintaining the strict neutrality that was demanded of them.

Questions remain

And even if there are fresh elections on Zanzibar within 90 days, there remains the question as to how the election commission will regain the credibility it has lost? And how will it guarantee that there will be no electoral fraud in a fresh round of voting?

The need to ensure that Tanzania remains calm and peaceful has top priority. The international community must ensure that the situation doesn’t escalate by bringing pressure to bear on all parties involved. Transparency is crucial. Tanzania, which has been a force for stability and peace for decades, cannot be allowed to descend into chaos. That would mean dire consequences not only for the country and its people, but also lead to further destabilization in a region already troubled by crises in Burundi and the Democratic Republic Congo.


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