Tanzania – An historic election

Tanzania’s elections last Sunday were the most competitive the country as ever seen. Results so far suggest the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party will remain in power, extending its 54-year reign. But even if CCM wins, these elections mark a decisive shift in Tanzania’s politics.

CCM divided

This campaign season has laid bare the entrenched factionalism within CCM. What was once a highly centralized, bureaucratic party is increasingly split by rival networks of competing political elites. These networks link national political figures, influential financiers, and regional and local party leaders, who are in many areas grouped into personalized political machines.

Faction tensions reached a fever pitch during the CCM presidential nomination process last June and July. A leading contender was Edward Lowassa, a former Prime Minister in outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete’s first government before he resigned over a corruption scandal.

This fall from grace set Lowassa at loggerheads with Kikwete, his former political ally. It is widely accepted that Kikwete personally intervened to ensure Lowassa did not get the CCM nomination despite enjoying widespread support. The nomination instead fell to John Magufuli, a long-time minister with no clear factional affiliation.

Lowassa responded to his exclusion by defecting to the opposition, where he was selected as the presidential candidate for the coalition known by its Swahili acronym Ukawa. Lowassa brought with him a wave of other defectors from CCM, including more former ministers and local party cadres, especially from his home area in Arusha region where his personal network is strongest.

This development fundamentally changed the election calculus, giving the opposition a shot at winning the presidency.

The opposition united

Tanzania’s opposition parties were in a relatively strong position even before Lowassa’s entry.

Four parties—Chadema, CUF, NCCR-Mageauzi, and NDL—united in the Ukawa coalition in 2014 and had agreed to field joint parliamentary and district council candidates in the 2015 elections. Chadema, now Tanzania’s leading opposition party, had also built up its local party structures in the years following the 2010 elections, and had managed to implant itself in areas where previously it had only a slight presence.

Lowassa’s arrival at the helm may have cost the opposition some of its support, particularly as parties like Chadema built their reputation as anti-corruption crusaders and were now seen to embrace a politician long maligned as corruption incarnate. CCM took advantage of this situation during the election campaigns, branding the opposition hypocrites.

Even so, the opposition momentum only grew with Lowassa drawing huge crowds at rallies. CCM meanwhile was struggling with its own flagging legitimacy, seemingly relying on the relatively untainted image of its presidential candidate, Magufuli, to carry the day. More skeptical observers tended to question both candidates’ promise of ‘change.’

The election results so far

Vote counting is still ongoing with CCM leading. Besides providing a sign of who will ultimately win, the available results reveal interesting patterns.

In a country where politics do not generally play out along ethnic lines—certainly not when you compared with neighbouring Kenya—it is striking that both Magufuli and Lowassa’s home regions have swung strongly in their favour. In Magufuli’s home area south of Lake Victoria, a number of constituencies that previously voted for opposition parliamentary and presidential candidates—and where Chadema hoped to consolidate its base—reverted to voting CCM. Around Arusha, the swing was still more dramatic in the other direction. A large swath of constituencies that had never previously voted opposition did so for both the parliamentary candidate and presidency, including constituencies that voted CCM by 60-90% in the last elections.

It would be a mistake, though, to interpret these swings as a marker of purely ‘ethnic’ voting. Both Magufuli and Lowassa’s areas are ethnically diverse, making it difficult to rely on one group to win a victory. What’s more, if we take Arusha as an example, the opposition was already making strong inroads there on its own. What Lowassa was able to add was his own political machine, carved out from within CCM over the 20 years he has served as a Member of Parliament. Finally, there is also a rational assessment voters make whereby they judge that having a president from their area—regardless of ethnicity—will ensure development gains for everyone.

Whichever way you choose to interpret this regional vote, it does add to the perception of a more personalized politics where party allegiance is pegged to personal networks.

The importance of personality is also implied through the prominence of split-ticket voting in a number of regions. For instance, several constituencies in the CCM regional stronghold of Morogoro have gone to opposition parliamentary candidates even though these same constituencies supported CCM’s Magufuli for President. Voters in other regions, notably Mbeya, are more consistent, voting Chadema across the board and seeing off at least one minister and regional CCM chairman in the process. In that area, at least, it is clear that Chadema as a party is firmly implanted.

Finally, much has been made of the growing number of CCM big-wigs who have lost in the elections so far. An emblematic case was the defeat of Stephen Wasira, a minister under three different presidents and a top ranking CCM official. Wasira lost to a young woman, Esther Bulaya, who stood out as a CCM MP critical of government in the last parliamentary session before defecting to Chadema (ahead of Lowassa) earlier this year. This result speaks to a growing popular disillusionment with a CCM old guard, its yes-man politics and its apparent inability to address critical issues, such as corruption.

But are these even the real results?

While polling went smoothly on Sunday, vote tallying has raised serious concerns to the point where both sides are now accusing the other of foul play.

On Monday, police raided a number of Chadema vote tallying centres and eight volunteers were later charged with publishing false election results under the newly enacted and much criticized Cyber Crimes Act. This incident prompted a volley of accusations and counter-accusations form Chadema and CCM.

More worrying, however, was the decision made by the Chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission on Wednesday to nullify the Zanzibar elections on the basis of vague allegations of ‘irregularities.’ This came after the opposition presidential candidate for Zanzibar announced he had won and security forces surrounded a hotel where ZEC commissioners and international election observers were staying.

The opposition sees the ZEC announcement—issued just as vote counting was nearing completion—as a panicked response to CCM losing the election in Zanzibar. Lowassa has also responded by calling into question results published by the National Electoral Commission responsible for counting votes for the Union President and National Assembly candidates.

Tanzania has a reputation as a peaceful country where election violence, outside of Zanzibar, is virtually unknown. The rapid degeneration in trust after the Sunday polls—and the nullification of the Zanzibar election—has brought the country into unchartered territory. Political leaders are calling for calm, but so long as accusations continue to fly, the potential for a dangerous escalation cannot be ruled out.

As it stands, the elections in Tanzania have proved historic. Even if they do not herald a transfer of power, they have unveiled the extent of factional divisions within CCM as never before. They also testify to a public desire for ‘change,’ particularly within Tanzania’s growing youth population. However, how that change will be delivered, and who will oversee it, is more uncertain than ever.

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