, DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 25 – Tanzanians voted in presidential and general elections Sunday, in what is expected to be the tightest race in the history of East Africa’s most populous country.
Long lines of voters began gathering hours before dawn in the main city Dar es Salaam, with centres there opening on time at 7am (0400 GMT) and queues moving quickly.
Analysts say the presidential race will pit John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), seen as the narrow favourite, against ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, a CCM stalwart who recently defected to the opposition Chadema, heading a coalition of parties.
Both have spent the past two months flying by helicopter across the huge country wooing voters, holding colourful rallies with thousands of flag-waving supporters.
Analysts have warned that the unusually tight race could spark tensions, with the opposition providing the first credible challenge to the CCM since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1995.
“I want to lead the country to development and good welfare,” Magufuli said in one of his final campaign speeches. “Everyone deserves a better life irrespective of his or her political inclination.”
Many believe 55-year old Magufuli – currently minister of works, for which he earned the nickname “The Bulldozer” – will face a tough challenge from Lowassa, 62.
Lowassa was prime minister from 2005 until his resignation in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies and has spent years being one of the CCM’s strongest supporters, but on the campaign trail he has called for an end to the party’s rule.
“This regime has outlived its usefulness,” Lowassa said at his final rally late Saturday, repeating his calls to “kick CCM out of office, the regime that has failed the nation for all the 54 years it has been in office.”
Lowassa was one of the first to cast his vote in the remote centre at Ngarash, in the northern Arusha district.