Tanzanians choose a ‘blunt and brusque’ President

> Phyllis Johnson

Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli has won the presidential election to become the 5th president of the United Republic of Tanzania.   

The general election was held on Sunday 25 October, and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced the results three days later, as promised.

Dr Magufuli, candidate of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his track record as Minister of Works in driving a programme to build roads across the vast country, won a total of 8,882,935 votes, 58.46 percent of the total votes cast.

His nearest rival, Chadema’s Edward Lowassa who headed the Coalition of the Defenders of the People’s Constitution (Ukawa), collected 6,072,848 votes (39.97 percent). There were nine presidential candidates, but in reality only two in the race.

“I duly declare John Pombe Magufuli to have been duly elected President of the United Republic of Tanzania,” the NEC chief, Damian Lubuva, announced on Thursday afternoon.

Magufuli’s running mate, Samia Suluhu Hassan, will become Tanzania’s first woman vice-president.

Colleagues say Magufuli is a “popular character, blunt and brusque but gets things done”, and they saw in him a person who could galvanize the electorate behind CCM.

“My government will put emphasis on fighting corruption, job creation and industrialisation,” he pledged on the day before the election, also promising to end power shortages and to exploit the country’s natural gas discoveries.

Magufuli was born on the date that his victory was announced, 29 October, but 56 years earlier, in 1959.

He has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Dar es Salaam, and has served as a Member of Parliament for the past 20 years, representing his Chato constituency in the gold-mining district of Geita in north western Tanzania near Lake Victoria.

He served in various cabinet posts under President Benjamin Mkapa and his successor, Jakaya Kikwete, who is stepping down after serving two five-year terms as stipulated in the current Tanzanian constitution.

Magufuli contested the election on an anti-corruption platform, and secured a convincing victory over his closest rival Lowassa, a former CCM minister and prime minister turned opposition chief, who has refused to recognise the result, alleging that the electronic system used to tally votes had been manipulated.

As has become customary, the opposition said the vote was rigged and claimed victory.

“We refuse to accept this attempt to rob the citizens of Tanzania of their democratic rights, which is being done by the National Electoral Commission by announcing results which are not the actual results. We are requesting that the National Electoral Commission announces that Edward Lowassa is the winner of the presidency of the United Republic of Tanzania,” a spokesperson said.

The Ukawa coalition, formed by four opposition parties, complained that the way the NEC announced the presidential results favoured CCM. The NEC, which has been conducting elections for decades and is a founder member of the SADC Electoral Commissions Forum (ECF-SADC), denied this allegation.

The margin of victory is comfortable for Magufuli and CCM, although foreign analysts had been predicting a much closer race, while the opposition coalition was talking up its chances of unseating Africa’s longest-serving ruling party.

One commentator in Dar es Salaam said, “it challenges the imagination as to how the opposition and their external supporters could think that a person who left CCM in July after failing in his bid for candidacy, after serving this party in government for many years, could suddenly cross to the opposition and start campaigning against the same party that he belonged to only a few weeks ago … and expect to be elected President.

“This is the country built by Julius Nyerere and CCM, the people know what is at stake.”

He meant that party politics would decide the election, not the following of an individual, no matter how wealthy, who leaves the ruling party which he has been championing, after serving as prime minister, and speaks from the other side of the table a few weeks later. This is what Tanzanians call siasa – politics.

It wasn’t all good news for CCM as the counting continued for seats in parliament. Although the party was well ahead, its majority in the national assembly could be reduced, and some prominent figures lost their seats, including some cabinet ministers.

This is not unusual in Tanzania, as around one-third of ministers have been defeated in most national elections.

As counting continued in the election for parliament and local authorities, one Tanzanian newspaper, The Citizen, said “the battle for constituencies makes a good reading in both CCM and Chadema strongholds.”

A joint statement from African and other international observers, including the African Union and European Union, said the polls were carried out in a “competent and largely efficient” manner.

“We were pleased that the voting and counting took place in an atmosphere of peace, and that the people of Tanzania demonstrated a strong commitment to their democratic process by turning out in significant numbers to cast their vote.”

Among others, the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) deployed 70 observers to 25 regions of the country after arriving on 16 October, and completed its mission on 29 October.

“Although there were a few problems in a small number of polling stations, the overall picture was one of millions of people exercising their voting rights in a peaceful environment and demonstrating their commitment to the democratic process,” said Judith Sargentini, head of the EU electoral observer mission.

Some 15 million of the registered 22 million voters cast their ballots, including half a million in Zanzibar.

“We are pleased with the results and thank Tanzanians for the trust,” a top CCM official said. “It is a big debt and our government will deliver on our election pledges.”

The United Republic of Tanzania is a union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar established in 1964. The Zanzibar islands elect their own president and parliament as well as voting for the Union president and parliament.

In Zanzibar, the situation was more confrontational after the opposition leader declared himself elected on 26 October before any results were announced.

On 27 October, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) annulled the election in the islands, citing gross irregularities, including serious violations of the electoral law.

    The ZEC chairperson presented nine points that had influenced the decision, and he revealed that partisan members of his commission had started fighting within the ZEC office as the process was going on.

He said there were many polling stations, especially in the island of Pemba, where the number of ballots cast was higher than the number of registered voters. “I therefore nullify this election and a new one would be prepared in the next 90 days.”

The results from 18 of the 54 constituencies in the islands had been released when the announcement was made. This is the first time an election has been annulled in Zanzibar. There had been less confrontation and violence than the last election, but some tension which led to the closure of roads and businesses.

Security was tight during election day and afterwards around the counting centre, especially on 26 October when the main opposition candidate for the Zanzibari presidency, Seif Sharrif Hamad of the Civic United Front, declared himself the winner.

This drew a sharp rebuke as the electoral commission is the only entity that has the legal authority to announce election results. But on 27 October he repeated that he will not concede defeat.

His main rival is the incumbent president of Zanzibar, Ali Mohamed Shein of CCM. The two have been sharing power in a unity government since the previous election, with Hamad as vice-president.

Traders began reopening their shops after the announcement and the Zanzibari police commissioner urged people to resume daily activities.

The United States embassy in Dar es Salaam said it was “gravely alarmed” and called for the annulment to be recalled.  – sardc.net

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