Tanzania was yesterday on a knife’s edge as advance voting started in Zanzibar amidst alleged shooting dead of five people by the police.
At the same time, the opposition presidential candidate in the island, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, was whisked away by security forces as he went to vote.
ACT Wazalendo Party, the main opposition party in Zanzibar, said police officers shot five people dead in Pemba on Monday night. Scores were injured in the incident.
Those killed are said to have been among residents who had gathered to prevent smuggling of stuffed ballot boxes into polling stations.
The party said its presidential candidate Seif Sherif Hamand was arrested and detained at Ziwani police headquarters.
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“This morning Zanzibar presidential candidate Seif Sharif Hamad was arrested and taken to Ziwani police headquarters in Zanzibar. He was apprehended at the Mtoni Garagara polling station, where he went to vote as advance voting commenced this morning,” the party said in a communication circulated to the press.
A picture of a country that is in turmoil was painted by reports of the army patrolling in the streets while others distributed ballot boxes in polling stations. Members of the army also attacked anybody who protested the acts, which many viewed as aimed at rigging the election.
In the mainland Tanzania, the tension was palpable after the main opposition party, Chama Cha Maendedweleo na Demokrasia (Chadema), reported that its presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, had been prevented from flying out of Kilimanjaro. Lissu was expected to fly to Dar where he was to hold his final public rally ahead of the voting today.
After waiting for hours to be cleared by the civil aviation authorities, at one point Lissu told his supporters he was going to fly to Dar es Salaam, with or without a license.
“Waheshimiwa viongozi, salaam. Mimi na timu yangu ya kampeni tuko Kilimanjaro International Airport tangu saa nne asubuhi. Tulikuja kuweka mafuta kwenye chopper yetu ili tuweze kwenda Dar kwa ajili ya mkutano wetu wa kufunga kampeni unaotakiwa kuanzia saa tisa mchana. (Fellow leaders, we have been at Kilimanjaro International Airport since morning. We had come to fuel our helicopter so we could fly to Dar es Salaam for the final campaign rally. The meeting was scheduled to start at 3pm).”
Lissu added: “We are unable to take off because we have been denied a license to land at Dar by the Tanzanian Civil Authority. This has been the habit of TCAA throughout my campaign. They are being used to sabotage my campaign. This is what they did last week in Lindi and Mtwara.”
“We will fly to Dar es Salaam with or without a license and they can do whatever they want. My colleagues and I will not stomach any more oppression of this nature. Dar es Salaam, here we come. Be ready.”
Tanzanian’s campaign period for the last 64 days has been characterised by violence directed at opposition candidates and their supporters. Some female candidates were brutalised by police officers and undressed in public.
When the polling stations open this morning, more than 29 million voters will cast their ballots without any intentional observers, as most have kept away due to coronavirus and strict government regulation.
Last weekend, the government suspended sending of bulk short messages by mobile phone, saying the move was aimed at checking the damage likely to be caused by negative messages.
The government has also suspended any transport by water in and out of Tanzania to give boat operators and shipping workers ample time to vote.
Pavu Abdallah, a human rights activist, described the election in Zanzibar thus: “The election here is not fair. The soldiers control everything here. They have killed 10 people and more than a hundred others locked up after they arrested”.
There were complaints of agents and candidates being locked out of polling stations as well as reports of violence in many parts of Zanzibar, where the police used live ammunition on people.
Chances of those dissatisfied with the poll outcome seeking redress in court are almost nil because of a new law passed recently. The law stipulates that no court can challenge the election of a presidential candidate or issue orders barring him or her from being sworn in.
President Magufuli, who is defending his seat on CCM ticket, took power in 2015. The constitution allows him to serve a maximum of two terms. However, there is fear that he may change the law to seek a third term if he wins a majority of the 264 parliamentary seats.