Tanzanians are today (Wednesday) voting in the presidential election preceded by a government crackdown on the opposition leaders and free speech concerns under the incumbent John Magufuli.
More than 29 million people have registered to vote in Wednesday’s election to decide the fate of President Magufuli, who is seeking re-election. Voting will be allowed until 4pm local time.
Leader of the East African nation’s top opposition parties, Freeman Mbowe of CHADEMA, on Wednesday said “my life was in danger”, claiming his hotel was raided and two of his armed security guards were taken.
Long deemed a haven of stability in East Africa, local and international observers say Tanzania has seen a worrying crackdown on the opposition and freedom of speech under President Magufuli.
Magufuli, 60, is seeking a second and final five-year term in office. While opinion polls have been banned, making it difficult to predict the outcome, many analysts see Magufuli as having strong chances of re-election.
His top opposition challenger is Tundu Lissu, a survivor of an assassination attempt in 2017, who returned from exile earlier this year to campaign. He was banned from campaigning for a week earlier this month by authorities who accused him of making seditious comments.
Lissu has urged people to stage protests on streets if election results are announced on Thursday without being counted properly. Whoever receives the most votes wins, with no second round.
Lissu posted on social media on Wednesday alleging “widespread irregularities” as voting got underway, including stuffed ballot boxes in some locations.
Reports from international press indicate that there was a lot of concern from ordinary Tanzanian people”, who were worried what might happen if the opposition “senses defeat.
The opposition faces a major challenge in trying to unseat the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, as 15 presidential candidates seek a win, splitting support.
‘Climate of fear’
Tanzania Elections Watch, a regional initiative of prominent personalities, has pointed out hate speech and intimidation of candidates and said the election would be flawed if held under current conditions.
“There are legitimate concerns that the heavy police and army deployment across Zanzibar is intimidating residents and creating fear and despondency that could deter voters from turning out,” Tanzania Elections Watch said in a statement on Wednesday.
It warned that actions by security forces have created a “climate of fear”.
Internet services slowed ahead of the vote. Fewer major election observers will be present, some saying they were not invited by the government, and the opposition said authorities made it difficult to accredit thousands of their own observers.
Few in foreign media received approval to report on the ground.
Deadly violence erupted ahead of the vote as Tanzania’s another top opposition party, ACT Wazalendo, accused police of shooting dead nine people in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.
Meanwhile, CHADEMA accused the governing party supporters of shooting dead two people at a rally in a town in the northeast.