Sunday, 15 November 2015

Reflections on Tanzania’s general elections 2015

Is Magufuli legally elected to be President of Tanzania ?

Tanzania has been praised globally for undergoing orderly and peaceful elections since the resumption of multi-party politics in 1992. But the 2015 elections, whether in Zanzibar or the union, can hardly be categorised as free or fair, by any standard. The climate of intimidation, manipulation and intrigue began well before the official campaign period  On October 25, 2015 A supporter of former Tanzania's prime minister and main opposition party Chadema presidential candidate Edward Lowassa

Tanzania went to the polls to elect a new president and representatives as mandated by the Constitution. Article 5 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania 1977 (2005 edition) elaborates the conditions of the franchise while the same right is provided for under Article 7 of the Zanzibar Constitution of 1984 (2010 edition).

Elections are not in the Schedule of union matters. Because of Tanzania’s unusual union structure elections are provided for under two separate constitutional and legal frameworks. Union elections are governed by the Elections Act (No.1 of 1985); the Electoral Laws (Miscellaneous Amendment Act 2004) as well as the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, (No. 4 of 1979) while elections of Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous state in the union, are governed by The Election Act (No.11 of 1984) as amended.  The Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) created under Article 119 of the Zanzibar Constitution oversees elections in Zanzibar while national elections are overseen by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) created under Article 74 of the Constitution of the United Republic.

The union presidency was hotly contested both within the ruling party and generally since President Jakaya Kikwete had completed his constitutionally mandated two terms in office. In Zanzibar, the incumbent President Ali Mohamed Shein faced a stiff challenge by his co-partner in the government of national unity (GNU), Vice President Seif Shariff Hamad of the Civic United Front (CUF).
Tanzanians on the Mainland casted 3 votes: they elected the President of the United Republic, their Parliamentarian and councilors; while Tanzanians in Zanzibar cast 5 votes: they elected the President of the United Republic, Parliamentarians, the President of Zanzibar, Members of the House of Representatives and Councilors.

Few expected the voting exercise that was relatively orderly, would three days later be annulled in Zanzibar plunging the semi-autonomous state into a political and constitutional vacuum. In the meantime the NEC proceeded to announce election results for the union presidency dismissing the annulment of the elections results in Zanzibar as immaterial to NEC’s mandate. The coalition of parties challenging the ruling party criticised the NEC for disregarding the actions of ZEC but also their objections to the announcement of results that had been ‘tampered’. They have since boycotted NEC events to formalise the election results.


Fourteen political parties contested the presidency in Zanzibar. The Chair of ZEC annulled the elections after ZEC had published results from 31 out of 54 constituencies in Zanzibar. Despite being annulled in Zanzibar these results were used by the NEC in the tallying of the results for the union presidency; and those for members of parliament.Zanzibar Electoral Commission Chairman, Jecha

The Chair of ZEC pictured above, Mr. Jecha Salum Jecha, single-headedly read a televised statement detailing nine points that led to the annulment of the elections. Among reasons given by the Chair for annulling the elections was his conclusion that elections in Zanzibar were not free and fair. Mr. Jecha’s assessment is in sharp contrast with the conclusion of observer missions on the ground including those made by the Africa Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the South African Development Community (SACD) who all concluded that the conduct of the polls in Zanzibar was free and fair.

Of course, when issuing their verdict observers use standardised criteria to guide their assessment of the overall conduct of the poll. But in an attempt to give credence to the casting of votes on Election Day what is often missed by generic assessments is the on-the-ground experience of the electoral process. Would the ordinary person, for example, echo Good luck Jonathan’s categorical statement that elections in Zanzibar were free and fair?

Also, the attempt to universalise the elections as ‘free and fair’ underplays the overall environment in which elections have taken place. The 2015 elections, whether in Zanzibar or the union can hardly be categorised as free or fair, by any standard. The climate of intimidation, manipulation and intrigue began well before the official campaign period. Notably grievances over the registration of voters evidenced the deep fracture in the GNU leading CUF legislators to walk out of the House at the closing session.

The two main parties have engaged in hard-hitting propaganda about their positions using various mediums. Observers from the EU, however, have noted that the state television, Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), did not allot equal air time or reporting to all parties contesting the elections. The EU observer mission also noted the excess use of state resources, by the ruling party, in campaign related activities.

The grip the ruling party had on the state television was evident during the coverage of elections results. Whereas televisions stations based on the mainland achieved a near 24-hour coverage of elections related news, ZBC minimally covered the reporting of election results. Channels on the mainland broadcasted election results, and coordinated debates and discussions on the voting exercise or related matters.

The ZBC on the other hand screened movies or propaganda songs about peace by party bands. It also featured religious music invoking peace and tranquillity, oblivious to its stated role of informing and educating the masses. At such a defining moment in the country’s history how does the state television remain uninterested in the first elections 50 years since independence?

Certainly such comportment suggests that the national broadcaster is not free. Such a scenario was witnessed in 2010 on the mainland, when the national broadcaster, TBC, failed to renew the contract of its Director General Tido Mhando because he opened up the station to ‘diverse voices’ during the elections and during the constitutional review process, not just the official propaganda machine. Critical programmes have since been taken off air and have been replaced by programmes that advance the ruling party’s propaganda.

It is therefore telling that after the announcement to annul the election results there was no commentary or panel assembled to discuss the unexpected turn of events. The swift and numerous reactions from activists, academics and opposition parties assembled by TV and radio stations on the mainland were not replicated in Zanzibar where normal programming was resumed. Thus while the streets in Zanzibar were tense, ZBC tried to depict a situation of ‘normality’. Yet, it was precisely this attempt to normalise an abnormal situation that defied any claims to ‘credible and free’ elections.

Zanzibar is far from normal. Since Election Day on October 25, 2015 Zanzibar has been at a standstill. People largely remain indoors. Open markets are empty of people as well as of produce. Overnight prices of common foodstuff have tripled. Those who could manage have either retired to rural areas or to the mainland.

The local population has been intimidated by security forces. More than five people have been hospitalised with bullet wounds. Radio Deustche Welle Swahili Service as well as the BBC Swahili Service reported on raids conducted by the police in collaboration with Zanzibar Special Forces on homes in an urban quarter called Mwembetanga where homes were broken into at night and vandalised. Locals, especially in neighbourhoods perceived to be pro-opposition, regularly reported of beatings by men scouting neighbourhoods spotting face masks or with painted faces.

On the mainland the Legal and Human Rights Centre’s election observation centre was raided and its computers with vital data confiscated. Over 30 LHRC staff were arrested and taken to a police station where they were initially harassed before their statements were taken. This is despite the fact that LHRC is an accredited election observer.

In a post-election forum conducted by a local media house the Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Network described the 2015 elections as beset by the use of ‘muscle’ be it financial, political or physical. The main opposition contestant for the union presidency, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, decried the excess deployment of military personnel and military apparatus during the elections indicating that it was aimed at intimidating voters, not to protect them.

Zanzibar, in particular, has faced the brunt of military deployments. Military presence in the isles began soon after election campaigns were launched but they were significantly beefed-up prior to the elections and after the ZEC Chair annulled the elections results. Zanzibar is literally under siege with road blocks and unofficial curfews. It is a miracle that the local population has persevered and resisted post-election rioting.


Articles 3 and 8 of the Union Constitution and Article 5 of the Zanzibar Constitution reiterate that Tanzania and Zanzibar respectively are multi-party democracies adhering to the principles of democracy and social justice. General elections, when held in a transparent environment, evidence the realisation of this ideal.

Yet, prominent politicians in Zanzibar have in numerous instances openly opposed the very ideals of democracy- the right to be voted into office. Ms. Asha Bakari, a former minister and a member of the House of Representatives, declared during a live session of the Constituent Assembly in 2014 that Zanzibar is a revolutionary state which will not surrender power through the ballot. Before millions of viewers she exclaimed that a revolutionary state will not cede power, and will only do so through another revolution.

Whereas countries in the region have shown signs of democratic regression, especially with regards to free and fair elections, Tanzania has been praised globally for undergoing orderly and peaceful elections since the resumption of multi-party politics in 1992. Even so, the contestations around the 2015 General elections have removed the veneer of ‘free and fair’ from the conduct of local and national elections and instead exposed the extent to which the popular vote in Tanzania has been routinely compromised by those with ‘political muscle’ to the chagrin of democrats.

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