October 8, 2005

Zanzibar poll will not be fair, claims opposition

Sixteen opposition parties on Tanzania's Zanzibar islands have claimed that elections would not be free or fair since state media favoured the government and security forces were intimidating voters. The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) has long complained that Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party used police and troops to intimidate opponents and had built up numbers on Zanzibar prior to the country-wide October 30 vote. But in a rare show of opposition unity on the politically fractious archipelago, 16 anti-CCM parties held a joint news conference to denounce what they said was an unfair contest. "Right from the beginning (of the campaign) things were not fair. We don't think the coming elections will be free," said Omar Awesu Dadi of the United People's Democratic Party. "We do not think there will be free and fair elections because we already see security forces moving around intimidating voters," said Rashid Ahmed Rashid, presidential candidate for the National League of Democracy. "All the dirty acts of 1995 and 2000 should not be repeated this time."

The parties also urged the disbanding of groups of thugs that have beaten up opposition activists recently. The thugs are nicknamed "Janjaweed" after Arab militia in Sudan's Darfur region. CUF says they are linked to CCM, a charge CCM denies. The 16 parties also maintain that CCM had complete use of state resources to campaign and the media was biased towards the CCM. According to residents, television, radio and newspapers provide generous coverage to CCM candidates at the expense of the opposition. Government and CCM spokesmen could not be reached for comment then. The Zanzibar government has however repeatedly denied wrongdoing and says the elections will be fair.

More than 48 people had been seriously injured in recent pre-election violence in the run up to the polls in this semi-autonomous Indian Ocean archipelago. More than a dozen people had died in probably politically motivated violence in the last eight months, with dozens of homes and offices set ablaze and other violent incidents. The violence started early this year and both sides had accused the other of recruiting youth militias to stage attacks.

October's elections are set for both Tanzanian and Zanzibari regional presidencies. A vote for Tanzania's 322-member national legislature, Zanzibar's 50-member House of Representatives and local councillors in both parts of the union will also be held that day. The CCM, in power since independence four decades ago, is expected to win comfortably at national level. But according to analysts, the CUF has a good chance of taking power on semi-autonomous Zanzibar where it enjoys most support. (Rts)

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