, DAR ES SALAAM, Oct 28 – East Africa\’s largest country Tanzania prepared for its fourth multi-party polls Sunday, with President Jakaya Kikwete expected to keep his job despite feistier-than-usual opposition.
Voters will also choose leaders on Tanzania\’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar island under a new power-sharing system aimed at ending perennial election violence.
Two opinion polls have given Kikwete, 60, a wide margin over his six opponents as he seeks a second and final term in office.
Opposition to his ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM — Revolution Party) is at its strongest since the resumption of multiparty politics in 1992 and Kikwete is expected to win with a lower margin than his 80 percent landslide in 2005.
Kikwete, a former foreign minister, has promised to reduce poverty, improve health, education and transport, but his opponents criticised the new pledges, saying poverty is still high despite CCM\’s rule since 1961 independence.
Tanzania is one of the world\’s least developed countries, with an economy reliant on non-industrialised agriculture that employs nearly 80 percent of the workforce.
Other economic sectors include mining, construction, manufacturing and tourism — for which it boasts the expansive Serengeti park and Kilimanjaro, Africa\’s tallest mountain, as well as the idyllic Zanzibar archipelago.
The ruling party remained confident it would win the elections, in which some 19 million voters will also elect lawmakers and local leaders.
"We are satisfied with the trend of our campaigns so far," said Abdulrahman Kinana, CCM\’s election committee chairman.
"We are going to emerge with a big victory in the presidential, parliamentary and councillors\’ polls," he told reporters earlier this month.
One of Kikwete\’s main opponents is three-time presidential loser Ibrahim Lipumba of the Civic United Front (CUF).
A former University of Dar es Salaam economics professor, Lipumba lost twice to Kikwete\’s predecessor Benjamin Mkapa in 1995 and 2000 and to Kikwete himself in 2005, and opinion polls have placed him third.
First time presidential candidate and veteran lawmaker Wilbrod Slaa is Kikwete\’s closest challenger, but registered a paltry 10 percent in opinion polls released earlier this month.
On the Zanzibar archipelago, a top tourist destination but politically volatile, some 400,000 voters are also called to cast their ballots on Sunday.
CCM\’s Ali Mohamed Shein, 62, and CUF\’s 67-year-old Seif Sharif Hamad are the top candidates for Zanzibar\’s presidency. The two also backed a July referendum to entrench a power-sharing government in the constitution.
Under the new accord, the winning pary takes the presidency while the runners-up are handed the position of vice-president.
Despite a peaceful campaigns, the CUF has voiced concern about the Zanzibar Electoral Commision\’s (ZEC) transparency.
"We are still concerned about transparency. ZEC has released a copy of voter registers with some irregularities," the party\’s poll director Juma Sanani said.
"There are about 10,000 uncollected voters cards which were supposed to be stored by ZEC, but the cards are now in the wrong hands and may be used for double voting."
Geographically, Zanzibar archipelago comprises three isles, but the third, Mafia, falls under the mainland administratively.
Zanzibar formed a union government in 1964 with mainland Tanganyika, as it was then known, to establish the United Republic of Tanzania.
The CCM has been at the helm since 1977 after replacing a party that ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1961.