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Historic elections in Tanzania haunted by spectre of Kenya unrest

Tanzania elections

Today, elections in Tanzania take place with more than 22 million Tanzanians going to the polls to elect new parliamentary and national leaders. 

This is one of the most hotly contested elections in the history of Tanzania with the opposition and the ruling party both running neck and neck according to opinion polls.

The opposition under the umbrella coalition Ukawa, is fielding a main candidate-Edward Lowassa against the longest ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), John Magufuli setting the stage for a very tight race.

With the election outcome expected to go either way and growing fear of post poll violence, tension is building up. A few hitches  could see the very peaceful democracy fall into post poll chaos.

The Tanzania National Electoral  Commission is tasked with ensuring a free and fair process. However, some voters have alleged that they could be denied an opportunity to cast their votes.

There have been complaints that names are missing from the electoral registers, shifting of voters to polling centres where they had not registered as well as allegations that almost 200,000 foreign nationalities have been illegally registered to participate in the polls are some of the major concerns.

The National Electoral Commission states that nobody shall be allowed within a radius of 200 metres from the polling station after they have cast their vote on Sunday. The electorates have also been advised not to wear or display party symbol, card or emblem that would indicate their choice for a particular candidate.

This directive has been strongly supported by the outgoing president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete who cautioned that the government would deal with those who chose to stay behind in the name of guarding votes.  According to president Kikwete such people would disrupt peace and the entire electoral process. However, this ruling is seen as a form of intimidation by the opposition party.

They have gone to court to challenge this restriction which they claim affects the voters rights to participate fully in the electoral process. The outcome of this case is yet to be determined.

Despite these hitches, the judiciary says it expects that the exercise will be free and fair. It is  prepared to deal with election petitions should they arise.  Chief Justice Mohammed Chande Othuman  states any election cases will be heard and determined six months after the elections.

Quoted in a local Tanzanian daily, he said ” Electoral process cannot be said to be complete or to have concluded when there are still pending election petitions in court. In dealing with election petitions, courts also play an important role of safe-guarding democracy and protecting the electoral rights created by Statute.

“This is one of the reasons why the election petitions need to be accorded priority, [efficiently] tracked and disposed of in a timely fashion”

Elections remain sensitive in rising democracies in Africa such as Tanzania. There are fears that if there is poor handling this could result in chaos and potentially lead to sporadic violence as was the case in Kenya in 2007.

Words by Maren Okoth

Picture by flowcomm

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