May 5, 2003

Discussion on by-elections in Zanzibar

Sweden has urged the Tanzanian government to allow six opposition candidates disqualified from contesting in the forthcoming by-elections in Pemba Island of Zanzibar to reverse its decision for the sake of political harmony on the isles. The members of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) have been disqualified from contesting in the May 18 by-election that seeks to fill 17 vacant seats in the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

The outgoing Swedish Ambassador to Tanzania, Sten Rylander, told The East African it was important that the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and CUF top leadership to find a constructive compromise solution to the crisis. CUF is the main opposition party in Zanzibar. Besides CCM, the other 13 political parties have insignificant influence on the isles.

“It is sad to see opposition parties quarrelling and accusing each other. I am referring to the NCCR-Mageuzi/CUF discussions about candidates and so on. It's frustrating, but I am hopeful that the October 2001 peace accord will hold” Mr Rylander said. NCCR-Mageuzi has successfully petitioned the Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) to disqualify the six CUF candidates from running in the elections. The party cites a 1984 Zanzibar constitution section that prohibits MPs who get dismissed by the Speaker from the House for failing to attend three consecutive sessions of the House to seek re-election or run for elective office for three years.

The six were among 17 CUF candidates who boycotted parliament in Zanzibar to protest against the 2000 general elections for alleged rigging. Subsequent events led to violent clashes between the police and CUF supporters on Pemba in which about 30 people died and over 1,000 fled to seek refuge in Kenya.

Mr Rylander urged CCM and CUF to find a compromise solution in the current crisis, saying that despite the legal and constitutional concerns raised by ZEC, the six candidates never took oath as members of the Zanzibar House of Representative after winning in the 2000 elections. However, the envoy ruled out the possibility of donors suspending aid to Zanzibar.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon announced the composition of a Commonwealth Expert Team to be present at the by-elections. The team arrived in Zanzibar on 13 May where they have been briefed by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, political parties and civil society representatives. They will deploy around Pemba to observe the final preparations for the elections, the polling and the results process. They will depart on 23 May after completing their report to the Secretary-General. (The East African, Nairobi / Commonwealth News and Information Service, London)

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