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Magufuli or Lissu? A two-horse race in Tanzania’s grueling presidential poll

By Mwangi Maina | August 26th 2020 at 04:44:13 GMT +0300

President John Magufuli who is vying for Tanzania's top seat a second time. [File, Standard]

As the Tanzanian Presidential race hits the homestretch, fifteen candidates have been cleared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to run for the top seat.

However, the election slated for Wednesday, October 28, 2020, is likely to be a two-horse race, a battle between political foes, the incumbent John Magufuli and Chadema’s Tundu Lissu.

The two rivals were cleared by the nation’s electoral commission on Tuesday, August 25, for the Presidential race.

Both Magufuli and Lissu expressed optimism that they will emerge victorious in an election that comes at a very critical time when the world and the region is fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The electoral body has set a period of two months for campaigns which will run from 26 August to 27 October.

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President John Magufuli is seeking a second term with the longest-ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ticket.

Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, nominated Tundu Lissu, as the Presidential flagbearer. Lissu cried foul on Tuesday over return of nomination forms alleging ‘’irregularities and organised sabotage’’ of Tanzania’s opposition candidates on nomination day.

Chadema's presidential candidate Tundu Lissu. [File, Standard]

The former Singida East lawmaker spent the better part of Tuesday at the commission’s headquarters in Dodoma. He was cleared by the electoral body Tuesday evening after NEC Chairman Judge Semistocles Kaijage declared that his forms had been duly filled and had met all the requirements set.

‘’The deed is done; we’re officially nominated as Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Now we face anyone wishing to object our presidential run,’’ the firebrand opposition leader tweeted moments after he got clearance from NEC.

Lissu, who returned back to Tanzania from Belgium in July after three years away for treatment, has built his reputation as a prominent lawyer, fierce opposition figure and outspoken government critic. He was stripped of his Singida East parliamentary seat in 2019 over what Speaker Job Ndugai referred to as ‘’absenteeism’’.

Tanzania’s President, Dr John Magufuli came to power in 2015 taking over from Jakaya Kikwete and has already made his mark as an economical leader committed to fighting waste in the public sector and punishing poor performance in the delivery of public services.

The frugal political style and intolerance for corruption displayed by Magufuli won him admiration and attention globally during his first year in office.

However, Magufuli faces a more difficult task in dealing with divergent dynamics within the ruling party CCM, opposition and Tanzanian people, who feel he has turned to an autocratic leader.

Lissu, the only Presidential candidate who crisscrossed deeply the East African nation looking for sponsors in twelve regions was ‘’politically’’ riding on the current regime misdeeds, particularly the government’s strategy not to report coronavirus statistics, suppression of media freedoms and the deteriorating state of human rights and rule of law in the nation.

The former Tanganyika lawmaker put up a spirited meet-the-people tour which attracted thousands of supporters in the towns of Singida, Njombe, Iringa, Tunduma on the Tanzania-Zambia border and Mbeya among other areas sending chills of fear to the ruling party CCM.

A video of Magufuli filmed in 2015 during the presidential campaigns resurfaced online few days to the start of the campaign period, showing the Swahili-speaking nation leader vowing to champion and defend a free press once elected, two years later after being voted in as Tanzania’s President, Pombe took a Presidential U-turn in March 2017, warned media owners and journalists that press freedom has limits.

‘’I would like to tell media owners- be careful, watch it. If you think you have that kind of freedom, it is not to that extent,’’ Magufuli said.

In November 2017, just two years in office, the conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers wrote that Magufuli had become apparent that he was not just waging war on corruption, but also declaring war on democracy.

Magufuli’s regime has drawn criticism for intensifying crackdown on media and dissident voices by introducing contentious broadcast and online media laws barring people from staging online protests as well as engaging on matters Covid-19.

Human rights groups accuse the regime of narrowing freedoms and repressing political dissidents, including stifling of independent journalists and severely restricting the activities of NGOs. The Tanzanian government denies the allegations.

On the other hand, Regional pundits argue that lack of political unity in the opposition might give Magufuli leeway of surpassing his competitors and emerge victorious although not with a huge margin.

Journalist and Political analyst Ansbert Ngurumo assert that Tanzania shouldn’t expect a free and fair campaign.

‘’The electoral system didn’t lay grounds for free and fair campaigns; the fabrics of the very system don’t have room for that type of campaign. It is another season of bruising,’’ he said.

Newly posted US envoy to Dar es Salaam Donald Wright has congratulated all the Presidential candidates cleared on Tuesday to contest in the October election.

‘’Hongera sana to all candidates, I look forward to a free and fair campaign season with all candidates able to share their vision for Tanzania’s future,’’ the envoy tweeted.

Tanzania operates in a democracy that has seen Presidents come and go. For his part, President Magufuli has already promised a transparent vote.

‘’I want to assure everyone that the polls will be free and fair, for all political parties,’’ Magufuli told lawmakers as he dissolved parliament in June.

Tanzanians on 28 October will also head to the polls to elect members of parliament and local councillors.


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