from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – THERE is no end in sight to the political problems afflicting Zanzibar, the Tanzanian archipelago that was thrust into predicament following a chaotic election.
Months after the shambles, and ongoing negotiations, the country’s political landscape is on a knife edge as rivals still spat over the authentic winner of the election, religious groups are divided over the decision by the opposition to boycott a poll rerun and envoys accredited to Tanzania warning such tensions could spark a civil strife.
Last October, coinciding with polls in mainland Tanzania, semi-autonomous Zanzibar held polls to elects its own President and members to its sub-national legislature but commotion characterised resulting in an annulment.
Electoral authorities reported youths invaded polling stations with a view of causing chaos, some party agents were thrown out of polling stations, votes were tampered with, and electoral commissioners exchanged blows because of differences among themselves.
It was the first time in the history of Zanzibar, with a population of 1,3 million, that an election has been scrapped-sparking a predicament.
In the middle of the confusion, Seif Sharif Hamad, the candidate of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), declared himself the winner, claiming 200 077 votes against 178 363 for the incumbent Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) candidate, Ali Mohamed Shein, which would be the first ever defeat for the ruling party in the island’s presidential elections.
The tensions have been assuming new dimensions lately with Shein declaring he was still President. His rival insists Shein’s mandate expired on November 2.
There are strong indications by the main opposition party it would not contest an election re-run the Zanzibar Electoral Commission has rescheduled for March 20.
The High Commissioners and Ambassadors from some European countries to Tanzania have recently met in the East African country to express concern over the developments.
Among these envoys were from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
They reiterated concern with the ZEC’s decision to annul the election without providing evidence to substantiate its claim that irregularities had taken place.
“We regret that an election re-run was announced, while a dialogue between parties was still ongoing. For the benefit of all Tanzanians, we reaffirm our belief that the current political impasse in Zanzibar would be best addressed through a mutually acceptable and negotiated solution,” the envoys stated.
While expressing “deep concern” at the “unilateral” declaration of a re-run might lead to an escalation of intimidation and tensions, they commended the population of Zanzibar for having exercised calm and restraint to this date.
“We call on all parties and their supporters to continue to work together towards finding a peaceful solution. In order to be credible, electoral processes must be inclusive and representative. Under the current circumstances, the provision of international electoral observation would be difficult to consider.”
Meanwhile, Muslim groups are divided over the decision by CUF to boycott a rerun.
Islam is the most prominent religion on the island, with an estimated 99 percent of Zanzibarians Muslim.
While an Islamic propagation group popularly known as UAMSHO (Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation) believes the CUF must contest, the Islamic Council Organisation is in support of a boycott.
Such have been the differences the latter accused the former of lying to the public the CUF was considering to participate.
“We believed on the election conducted last year in Zanzibar. The election was democratically conducted and observed election code of conducts and there was no need of nullifying the elections which used a lot of money to run it,” Secretary of the Islamic Council Organisation, Ponda Issa Ponda, said.
The crisis is seen providing a stern test to the leadership of Tanzania President, John Magufuli, whose tenure had gotten off to a promising start.
Magufuli’s campaign was premised on job creation and ridding the country of graft. It was never envisaged Zanzibar would be among issues requiring urgent attention.
The envoys affiliated to Tanzania during their recent meeting said, “We urge President Magufuli to exercise leadership in this political impasse, and to pursue his previous calls for a negotiated solution between parties, so as to ensure a peaceful outcome, but also one that ensures the integrity of the electoral process.”
Magufuli has maintained a diplomatic stance, appealing for calm and dialogue.
A Dar-es-Salaam socio-economic commentator, James Bendera, said Mugufuli was in a “dilemma.”
“The President’s tenure got off to a flyer particularly his resolve to stem corruption. But on this one (Zanzibar crisis), he is in a sticky situation. He is compromised in that he also belongs to the CCM, alongside Shein,” said Bendera.
– CAJ News