Written by Jaree Zaidi
On Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2020, Tanzania held its general elections to elect both the President and the National Assembly, reelecting incumbent president John Magufuli. While Tanzania is formally a democracy, it has come under heavy criticism for its electoral practices.
As election day grew closer, citizens across the East African nation noted the eerily totalitarian measures undertaken by the ruling party to ensure power. As Dan Paget, a political lecturer at the University of Aberdeen put it, “The government has cracked down on political dissent, muzzled media and rights groups and passed legislation reinforcing the party’s hold on power.” The crackdown on opposition leaders has been so severe that one chairman of an opposition party had his hotel raided by armed men who kidnapped two of his security guards.
Magufuli won the previous election on a platform of anti-corruption and economic revitalization. While his cult of personality has garnered him popularity in the past, he has been ruthless in his attempts to ensure an easy victory in this year's race. His words have been no less bold than his actions, as he recently declared Tanzania coronavirus-free, citing the power of prayer in defeating the virus.
Magufuli’s attempts at rigging the election most notably involved constructing a climate of fear surrounding the elections. Allegations of fraud were made across the country, citing examples such as citizens being denied access to polling stations, the pre-ticketing of ballots, and instances of multiple voting.
Opposition leaders were not the only ones to cite concerns over the results. The U.S. embassy expressed its concerns on Friday, stating that “there have been credible allegations of significant election-related fraud and intimidation.” U.S. officials see Magufuli’s overwhelming victory as a sign that unfair tactics were used to rig the elections.
Tanzania’s semi-autonomous state of Zanzibar also held its elections on Tuesday. The ruling party candidate running for President of Zanzibar, Hussein Mwinyi, secured 76% of the vote, leading to the Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) full control of the country. The CCM is the ruling party of Tanzania, and its candidates have been in power ever since the country gained independence from Britain in 1961.
President Magufuli’s main challenger was opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who rejected the results of the election over “widespread irregularities.” Lissu has called for peaceful protests against the election process, as well as a joint conference between major opposition parties to discuss further action.
Notably, even politically impartial groups within the country have expressed dismay with the results of the elections. The “Tanzania Election Watch” noted that this year's elections showed signs that the country is taking major steps away from forming a fair and free democracy.
With one of the fastest growing populations and economies in Africa, many see this year’s crackdown as a major blow to the reputation of the East African nation as a beacon of democracy in a volatile region.
This article was written by IR Insider.