May 19, 2003

TANZANIA: Opposition party dominates peaceful by-elections in Pemba

Voters on Pemba, the semi autonomous island off Tanzania, overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for Tanzania's main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF) in Sunday's by-election, which, despite speculation to the contrary, was held in an atmosphere of calm and order. The barring of six CUF candidates had complicated the build-up to the election, which was being held to fill 17 seats in Zanzibar's House of Representatives and 15 seats in the Union's parliament that had been boycotted in protest of allegations over vote-rigging during elections in 2000.

Observers said that polling took place in a "peaceful and organised" manner and marked an important development in the implementation of the "Muafaka", an agreement signed between CUF and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), after post-election protests turned violent in 2001 and led to the death of at least 30 CUF supporters at the hands of the police.

The CUF candidates were barred after NCCR-Mageuzi, another opposition party, cited a section of the Zanzibar constitution that bans any MP who has been dismissed by the speaker of the House of Representatives - for failing to attend three consecutives - from seeking re-election for three years. The six were among the 17 CUF candidates who boycotted parliament to protest against the alleged rigging of the 2000 general election.

Speculation in Pemba was rife that NCCR-Mageuzi was acting as an agent of the ruling party in order to strengthen CCM's position on Pemba, which is traditionally a CUF power base. However, CCM and NCCR-Mageuzi denied the charge. CUF supporters were urged to take part in the election to cast a "protest vote" and, by spoiling their ballot papers, show their loyalty to CUF.

Official results, announced on Monday afternoon and have been accepted by both CUF and CCM, indicate an overwhelming victory for CUF in all 15 of the seats in the Union Parliament and the 11 constituencies that they still had candidates in for Zanzibar's House of Representatives. Analysts said a further measure of CUF domination was Mkanyageni, the former seat of Tanzanian Vice-President Ali Mohammed Shein, which was vacated when he became vice-president, but CCM still claimed was their stronghold. On Sunday, CUF won the seat with 66.1 percent of the vote, compared to CCM's 31.5 per cent.

Voters, the political parties and international and national observers alike seem to agree that voting on the day went smoothly and there were just a few complaints of people's names not being found on the voters' registers and a handful of people not being able to vote. Much of the praise for smooth elections went to the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), which oversaw the process of voter registration, but was strongly criticised for malpractice and for excluding the parties from the voting procedure after that last election. "Compared to 2000, there has been a huge improvement," Pius Libaba, an observer from the Tanzanian Election Monitoring Committee, told IRIN. "This time, the ZEC has been more transparent and involved the parties in all the stages. They even invited them to help the police look after the ballot boxes."

Observers said that there was a lot of work to be done before the general election in 2005 if a permanent voters' register was to be completed. They pointed to the need to combine the roles of the ZEC and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which, because of problems in the past, operated in parallel during elections.

Despite the elections, and acknowledging that the police have improved their handling of difficult situations, CUF still says that the lack of civic education and limited reforms of the judiciary point to problems with the implementation of the Muafaka. A Dar es Salaam-based political analyst, Michael Okema, said that the nature of Zanzibari politics meant that though peaceful elections were a step in the right direction, the deep-rooted enmity between the two parties remained. "This is has been a war and there are deep wounds that will still take a long time to heal," he said. (IRIN)

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