TANZANIA – About 29 million Tanzania are expected to cast their ballots today to elect the Union president, MPs and councilors during an election that analysts project would be the most hard-fought contest between the ruling party candidates and those of the opposition.
The basis upon which this election is fought—promises of continued infrastructural reforms, expansion of key social services, respect for civil rights, widening democratic space and people-centred development–has galvanised voters.
Fifteen candidates including the sitting President John Magufuli who is standing his second and final term have crisscrossed Tanzania’s 945,087 square kilometres during 63 days of hectic campaigns to woo supporters.
The contest will also involve candidates eyeing 390 parliamentary seats and 5,115 councillor positions for the mainland Tanzania and few others for members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives.
Tanzanians are going to cast their ballots with the hope of a free and fair election devoid of election malpractice but amid complaints from main opposition parties that some actions by authorities were frustrating the electoral process.
It is out of question the incumbent President Magufuli and the opposition icon Tundu Lissu are the main contenders of this historical election that has attracted huge local and international interest.
During the two months of campaigning, President Magufuli and his party CCM have boosted to win the election by a landslide majority based on his successful expansion of major infrastructural projects and expansion of social services.
The president has also used major policy reforms issues like introduction of free education policy for primary and secondary schools when he assumed power.
Construction of major roads, the SGR project, rural electrification projects, massive construction of health centres and improvement of health services and renovation and purchase of new ferries are other issues the party has been selling to voters.
CCM’s publicity and ideology secretary Humphrey Polepole told journalist last week his party was confident of winning elections based on the number of its active members that has doubled from 8.5 million in 2015 to 17 million this year.
Magufuli’s main rival Tundu Lissu who returned to the country in August from Belgium after spending three years outside the country for specialised treatment after being shot sixteen times by unknown gunmen in the Capital Dodoma unexpectedly changed the political tide soon after his party Chadema picked him its flag bearer.
His return and engagement in active politics has revitalised the opposition after over four years of silence and inactivity following government’s ban of political rallies in 2016.
The outspoken opposition candidate has mount sizable challenge to President Magufuli and has used his message of cherishing freedom, justice and people-centred development if he elected president to woo voters.
Backed by his record as a genuine defender of human rights defender and civil rights, Lissu has turned out to be a rallying point of individuals and groups which believe Tanzania needs change of government.
The opposition enters the election without many of its aspirants for parliamentary seats and councillorship position who have been disqualified by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which upheld objections from CCM candidates and other small opposition parties.
The main opposition Chadema alone has seen more than 20 parliamentary aspirants and 500 candidates for councillorship locked out of the race.
The major opposition parties have also complained of what they termed as deliberate move by authorities to lock out its agents from supervising today’s election from across the country.
Unlike previous elections, this time the parties have uniquely capitalized on online and social media platforms as their main campaign tool.
Many Tanzanians have sourced campaign messages from Twitter, Instagram Facebook and other platforms.
Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has issued several statements to remind internet users against abusing the services during election period.
This time the opposition goes to the poll not as one thing like the previous election when they formed a coalition to confront the ruling party that has been in power for over half a century.
The Political Party Act introduced a number of changes last year including the one that has set tough conditions and time frame for parties to form coalitions.
However, Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo party have informally agreed to cooperate in this year’s election. ACT has publically asked its members to vote for Tundu Lissu while Chadema has declared it would support ACT candidates for parliamentary seat and councilors in areas where its candidates were disqualified.
The International Community is keenly following up processes prior, during and after the election considering the country’s key economic, political and security role in the region.
Authorities in Tanzania have repeatedly reiterated their desire and preparedness to ensure a free and fair election by ensuring criteria for a standard election are in place and strictly observed by stakeholders.
This is despite some queries by the opposition that some events during nomination of candidates by the national electoral body were proving the opposite.
NEC disclosed recently that about 16 international organisations have been credited to observe Tanzanian election before, during and after casting of votes
In January this year, President John Magufuli assured the international community during a New Year sherry party at State House that the October General Election will be free, fair, and transparent.
President Magufuli went far to extend invitation for international election observers and agencies to come and observe the polls.
Prof Ibrahim Bakari of the Department of Political Science from the University of Dar es Salaam says the level of political freedom which according to him has been severely curtailed will define this years election.
“But the confidence of Wananchi who support the opposition remained stable,” he says.
What the 2020 election will bring for Tanzania is the question whose answer Tanzanians will be eagerly waiting hear when election results starts to trickle in.