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Tanzania: Opposition fear being locked out of October poll

The country’s main opposition party CHADEMA’s candidate, Tundu Lissu, and other opposition leaders have repeatedly claimed that there’s a likelihood that they’ll be blocked from running in this year’s general elections in October.

Just recently, CHADEMA headquarters in Arusha were reportedly firebombed on 13 August and shortly after, the convoy in which Lissu had been travelling in was attacked by “stone throwing bandits” according to an email sent by his lawyer’s office to the Tanzania Police Force.

Lissu, who recently returned to Tanzania after three years away seeking treatment for gunshot wounds, was nominated as CHADEMA’s presidential candidate on 3 August.

“The biggest date now is August 25th and 26th when we submit our nomination papers,” Lissu tells The Africa Report. “CCM (the ruling party) does not want any competition.”

He adds: “We’ve said publicly that we are not going to accept any such, our people to be ready for protests. There will be popular action should our candidates be disqualified.”

Growing concern for opposition

Fellow opposition leader, Zitto Kabwe, who leads the ACT-Wazalendo party, have raised concerns that the country’s electoral body could repeat what it did in local elections last year that included locking out their candidates and gave the ruling party nearly all the contested positions.

On 12 August, Kabwe tweeted: “We hear that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will not nominate some candidates from the Opposition Parties to the Presidency and Parliament for various reasons. I warn Judge Kaijage not to justify the unjust deal otherwise there will be NO ELECTION.”

While the electoral body’s head, Justice Semistocles Kaijage, has said that “there is no such plan within the commission”, the opposition leader’s claim has some recent context.

Last year, Chadema and five other opposition parties boycotted the local elections after their candidates were disqualified from the contest. The ruling party CCM’s candidates won nearly all the 16,000 seats in the polls.

Contending with hurdles

Other than the real possibility of disqualification from the October race, which could see President Magufuli win a second term, opposition leaders also have to contend with many other hurdles.

Among them is state harassment and frequent arrests, and in the case of Lissu, an attempted assassination in 2017. The country has also increased further restrictions on the media and free speech, in what has been a systematic crackdown on freedom of the press over the last five years.

  • On Monday 10 August, the communications regulatory authority banned local media stations from broadcasting foreign content without explicit permission. In July, new online content rules came into effect, as Magufuli’s administration extends its control over communications and content in the country.

Should Lissu win October’s elections, he says his priorities would immediately be:

  • Free political prisoners

  • Free civil society from oppression

  • Major reforms of legal order “worse than anything we’ve had over the one-party rule”

  • Establish a new order, “this country needs” one he adds.

In addition to the political situation, Tanzania has not released any COVID-19 figures since May, and President Magufuli has since declared the country COVID-free.

Like its smaller neighbour Burundi, which downplayed the extent of COVID-19 infections to avoid disrupting an election, Tanzania’s electoral contest will take place with no preventative measures to stop further spread of the virus.

With no social distancing measures clearly in place, people continue to gather in big numbers, even if it was to welcome back Lissu. “You cannot do any better than them,” he says of the crowds that turned up to welcome him back to Tanzania, and who have been attending his pre-campaign rallies.

Bottom line

With a little over two months to go to the elections, Tanzania’s biggest opposition party faces an uphill task in its quest to unseat President John Magufuli. The opposition’s boycott of the 2019 elections make it impossible to gauge the popularity of both sides, and Lissu says they do not expect a free and fair election process.

In addition to heading the country’s only ruling party since independence and the advantages of incumbency, President Magufuli’s reelection campaign will also undoubtedly benefit from the multiple laws and policies his administration has passed since 2015.

This article was published by The Africa Report.


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