, TANZANIA, Oct 29 – Tanzania’s ruling party was on track for victory Thursday in the country’s hardest fought elections since independence, despite concern at the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago’s decision to annul polls.
Opposition parties have also alleged rigging in Sunday’s presidential, general and local elections, where the ruling party in east Africa’s most populous country is facing its first major challenge in decades of dominance.
However, Tanzania’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) has said it still expects to complete vote counting on the mainland Thursday and declare presidential results, with the ruling party hopeful taking a strong lead after some two-thirds of constituency results were announced.
In parliament, the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) has already secured an overall majority pulling far into the lead, having won 159 out of a total of 264 seats, according to results released late Wednesday.
With 195 of 264 constituencies having released results, presidential candidate John Magufuli of the CCM has 59.2 percent of votes.
His nearest rival, Edward Lowassa of the opposition Chadema party, has 39.6 percent.
But while the CCM is extending its lead in the presidential race, several key ministers have lost their seats.
Those ousted include the ministers for agriculture, information and investment, as well as the mayor of Dar es Salaam, the country’s economic hub.
Questions have also been raised by Zanzibar’s annulment of polls.
Zanzibar’s electoral commission Wednesday said the vote on the Indian Ocean islands — where the 500,000 registered electorate also voted for Tanzania’s national president — must be carried out again, citing “violations of electoral law”.
– ‘Gravely alarmed’ –
Foreign embassies have raised concerns the decision could spark tensions on the islands.
The United States embassy in Dar es Salaam said in a statement it was “gravely alarmed” at the annulment, while Britain’s High Commissioner Dianna Melrose said she was “concerned” about Zanzibar’s decision and made a “call for calm.”
An AFP reporter on the islands’ capital Stone Town said the streets appeared to be returning to normal and were quiet Thursday morning, although security forces maintained a heavy presence.
“This action halted an orderly and peaceful election, as evaluated by observer missions from the US Embassy, European Union, Commonwealth, and Southern Africa Development Community, and a tabulation process nearing completion,” the US said in a statement.
“We call for this announcement to be recalled, and urge all parties to maintain a commitment to a transparent and peaceful democratic process. The people of Zanzibar deserve that.”
After Zanzibar’s annulment, Lowassa called on the election commission to stop any further result announcements, claiming the results had been “corrupted” by the NEC “with support” from the CCM party.
– Risk of tension –
Analysts have warned Tanzania’s hard fought race could spark tensions, with the opposition providing the first credible challenge to the CCM since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1995.
As counting and the announcement of final results drags on, many in Tanzania are keen for the usual daily life to return.
“I am a businessman and want life to continue as normal. For the whole of this week I am not doing well,” said Juma Sultani in Dar es Salaam. “Few people are coming to my shop.”
Benson Bana, a lecturer on politics at the University of Dar es Salaam, urged the NEC to “speed up” the counting and release of results.
“Delays have caused tensions to rise and in some places supporters have clashed with police,” Bana said.
Before the poll, many analysts said Magufuli — currently minister of works, for which he earned the nickname “The Bulldozer” — would face a tough challenge from Lowassa.
Magufuli, a former chemistry teacher, and who celebrates his 56th birthday on Thursday, ran on a key anti-corruption platform.
Lowassa, 62, was prime minister from 2005 until his resignation in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies, and has for years been a CCM loyalist, but on the campaign trail he called for an end to the party’s rule.
The ruling party has effectively held power since Tanzania’s independence from Britain in 1961.