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No gatherings on polling day, Tanzania court rules as candidates wrap up their campaigns

By Wilfred Ayaga | October 25th 2015

Tanzanians go to the polls Sunday to elect their representatives in one of the toughest elections in the East African country’s history.

The two leading presidential candidates held last minute rallies as the official campaign period ended Saturday.

Opposition candidate, Dr Edward Lowassa, was at Jangwani Grounds in the capital Dar es Salaam where he urged voters to trust him with their votes.

The ruling party candidate John Magufuli held his rally in the lakeside town of Mwanza, where he made a similar plea ahead of the historic polls.

“I know what is ailing this country. I offer myself to work for the Tanzanian people," he said at the rally.

Magufuli of CCM has been making the call during the fierce campaigns that saw him exchange barbs with Chadema's Lowassa. Throughout the campaigns, Magufuli has been making reference to his past public record as a performer, saying voters should give him a chance to lead them

In Dar es Salaam, Lowassa repeated his message that he will work to unite Tanzanians, and reminded them that the future of the country was no longer with the ruling CCM party.

“I’m only here to ask for your votes,” he said, adding that he will work to ensure free education and affordable health services in the country. Most of the shops in the capital were closed as opposition supporters took to the streets to drum up support for their candidate.

Supporters of various candidates will not be allowed near polling stations during today’s voting, the High court in Dar-es–Salaam ruled Friday.

Rigging fears

The ruling, by a three judge bench gave its interpretation of a section of the National Elections Act in a case that had filed by an opposition politician, Ammy Kibatala. Kibatala had sought an interpretation of the section, claiming that it would be a violation of people’s rights to keep them away from the polling stations on voting day.

According to the court ruling, supporters of competing candidates will also not be allowed to wear any clothes that show support for particular candidates. Displaying of banners and pictures on the polling day has also been banned.

In its ruling, the court said it will be illegal to gather within a radius of 200 meters, effectively ending a two-week controversy that has placed the ruling party and opposition politicians at loggerheads.

“The petitioner has not proved that her rights will be violated if she is kept away from the polling station since the law does not allow a gathering of any kind during election day,” the judges said.

While the opposition has claimed that the ban on gatherings is a plot to rig the polls, the ruling party has claimed it could lead to incitement of voters on polling day.

Former President Jakaya kikwte also weighed in on the debate, asking the opposition to follow the rules.

The section Kibatala wanted interpreted reads: “No person, shall, within nay buildings where; voting in an election is in progress or at any place within the radius of two hundred metres of any such building, wear or display any card, symbol, favour or other emblem indicating support for a particular candidate in the election.”

The interpretation of the election rules has been one of the sticking points of this election, whose outcome is crucial for one of Africa’s most stable democracies.

Security has been beefed up ahead of today’s polls.  Inspector General of Police Ernest Mangu told the press that security forces were on high alert.

“There will be enough security at all polling stations. Political leaders should, however, tell their supporters to leave the precincts of the polling stations after voting,” he said during a press conference in Dar-es-Salaam ahead of today’s elections.

Following the ruling by the High Court, the electoral body Saturday reminded voters of the electoral regulations, one of which the body said bars any form of gathering on election day.

“After voting and follow following regulations that were agreed on by all parties, all voters are required to leave the polling stations and to proceed with their normal business. The political parties have agents in the polling stations that will take care of their interest on the polling day,” said the electoral body in directions posted on its website a few hours to the election.

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