, DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 23 – Tanzania votes in presidential elections on Sunday, with the race seen as the most open and expected to be the tightest in the East African nation’s history.
As well as a presidential race in East Africa’s most populous country, voters will also be casting ballots in parliamentary and local polls on October 25, including on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, which will also hold its own presidential elections.
Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, who is not running having served his constitutional two-term limit, has ordered the police to boost security to ensure voting in the country of some 52 million people passes off peacefully.
“Execute your duty professionally… don’t harass or intimidate or favour anyone, but don’t hesitate to deal with troublemakers,” Kikwete told top police chiefs this week.
Change is inevitable with Kikwete standing down – unlike neighbouring Burundi where President Pierre Nkurunziza defied violent protests to win a third term in July, or Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, where leaders are believed to want to stay put.
The narrow favourite to win the national race is John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
But Magufuli, 55, is facing a stiff challenge from the main Opposition parties who have rallied around ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, 62. He recently defected from the CCM to the Opposition Chadema, heading a coalition of parties.
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.
“While the CCM clearly has some strong electoral advantages, there are growing indications that its long-term grip on power is continuing to dissipate,” former top US diplomat to Africa Johnnie Carson wrote for African Arguments.
“A tight election or the perception of a rigged outcome could increase the chance of post-election violence in what has been one of Africa’s leading democracies and most peaceful countries.”