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Elections on Zanzibar: an exercise in futility

While President Magufuli works around the clock to cut waste within Tanzania’s government, he appears to have overlooked a political crisis on the Zanzibar isles, where a “rogue” election commissioner is preparing to waste time, money and good will on a pointless vote with a predetermined outcome.

On Friday 22 January 2016, the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), Jecha Salim Jecha, invited voters on the Isles to return to polling stations on Sunday 20 March, urging them to again cast ballots for the Isles’ president, House of Representatives, and local councillors a mere 147 days after they last did so.

This was the first public statement from Jecha since he unilaterally annulled the results of Zanzibar’s elections on Wednesday 28 October 2015. Despite questions over whether he had a mandate to cancel the counting process, and without ever providing evidence of electoral irregularities, Jecha promptly disappeared, leaving the Isles to grapple with an unprecedented constitutional and political crisis.

Jecha resurfaced on 12 January 2016 to attend Zanzibar’s Revolution Day celebrations, where he was pictured alongside senior members of Tanzania’s ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Ten weeks in hiding had seemingly not sapped his enthusiasm to drag half a million Zanzibaris back to polling stations.


A conflicted ruling party…

Jecha’s insistence on fresh elections echoes the rhetoric emanating from Zanzibar’s outgoing president and CCM deputy chair, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein. According to independently validated parallel voter tabulation, Dr Shein lost the 25 October elections. Yet he remains in office with a kitchen cabinet, seemingly unwilling address the parlous state of the Isles’ economy, where food inflation hit 15.8% in late 2015.

Dr Shein’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election sits awkwardly with his party colleagues on the mainland. Some may ask how – without undermining their legitimacy – he can reject ballots cast on the same day, at the same polling stations, as those used to elect Tanzania’s president and its parliament.

Others in the ruling party appear willing to turn a blind eye to Shein’s actions on the condition that he ensures CCM retains power on the Isles, and can quell calls for constitutional reform. This perspective appears to be shared by members of Tanzania’s armed forces and police, who have ruthlessly enforced security on the Isles, raising tensions at a time when more politically-savvy operators would be addressing the concerns of voters who feel cheated.


…and an opportunity for the opposition?

CCM’s intransigence has provided ammunition for Tanzania’s opposition coalition, Ukawa, which was founded to campaign for a new constitution. The alliance has renewed its call for an independent electoral commission competent to administer votes on both Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, and for the right to contest results in court.

Among Ukawa’s four member parties is the Civic United Front (CUF), which served as the junior partner in Zanzibar’s government of national unity (GNU) between November 2010 and October 2015. CUF’s secretary-general, Seif Sharif Hamad, served as Vice-President of Zanzibar during that period and was selected as Ukawa’s candidate for the Isles’ presidency.

A former teacher known affectionately as “Maalim Seif”, Hamad participated in nine rounds of negotiations with Dr Shein and his party colleagues. The discussions, reportedly chaired by Dr Shein, were attended in turn by all living former presidents of the United Republic and of Zanzibar. Conspicuous by his absence in the discussions was the current Union president, John Magufuli, who instead separately received Maalim Seif and Dr Shein at the Ikulu – or State House – in Dar es Salaam.

On 11 January, Hamad convened his own press conference in Zanzibar, underlining his dissatisfaction with the talks, and calling for President Magufuli to intervene directly and broker a solution to the crisis. That very afternoon, Dr Shein insisted that the elections would go ahead regardless, a pledge subsequently reiterated on Revolution Day and later confirmed by Jecha.


Unfortunate timing

Since the crisis began in October, Hamad has maintained that CUF would not contend a re-run on the Isles, citing his outright victory over Dr Shein. However, with an impending election, the party must now consider whether to pursue this boycott or participate in the polls.

 CUF’s National Governing Council (NGC) is expected to announce its decision on Thursday 28 January. However, before the leadership convenes, the party’s grassroots is expected to march to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the massacre of 35 CUF activists by security forces on 27 January 2001. For many, the demonstration will rekindle unpleasant memories of the last post-electoral crisis, which forced approximately 2,000 Zanzibaris to flee to Kenya.

Divisions between politicians from different islands within the Zanzibar archipelago may complicate matters for Hamad and the CUF leadership. Candidates from Pemba – where CUF has historically won all of the seats, and where Jecha alleged electoral malpractice – may be more determined to take part, while those from Unguja may wish to maintain a boycott.

Such splits would threaten the stability of the party less than six months after the national chairman, Professor Ibrahim Lipumba, and his deputy, Juma Duni Haji, resigned from the leadership ahead of the October elections. In the short-term, divisions within CUF would play into the hands of a younger generation despondent that Maalim Seif’s strategy has failed to bear fruit.

In the long-term, the absence of a unified and politically competitive opposition on the Isles would provide space for more radical elements calling for Zanzibar’s secession from the Union. Such may be the cost of CCM’s unwillingness to compromise.


Public perception

The obstinacy displayed by Dr Shein and his acolytes has not escaped the attention of Tanzanian civil society. The acting executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Imelda Urio, expressed disbelief that the ZEC would announce the date of the elections without involving those who participated in talks to resolve the dispute.

She told Tanzania’s Guardian newspaper, “The chairman of the commission did not disclose the content of discussions held in various meetings and he was supposed to tell the public what was agreed and shortcomings noticed during the previous elections and how this was being solved.” Ms Urio also questioned the legality of the second vote, arguing that the ZEC “does not have the mandate to re-run the election”.

Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, a former prime minister of Tanzania and secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity (a forerunner to the African Union [AU]), announced his opposition to the re-run. Another former prime minister, and chair of the constitutional review commission, Justice Warioba, has called the situation a national crisis.

A former attorney-general of Zanzibar, Othman Masoud Othman, has argued that Dr Shein should stand down while the Chief Justice investigates whether the election results in Zanzibar were legally cancelled. If they were not, then the count should continue and the victorious candidates should be allowed to assume office. This proposal was promptly rebuffed by one of Dr Shein’s junior ministers.


International opposition

The second vote is reported to cost 7 billion Tanzanian shillings (approximately US$3.4 million) to administer, which equates to 5% of the Isles’ GDP. This is hardly a sum which the United Republic can afford at present, although not because of its magnitude. On 17 December 2015, the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) resolved to defer a grant of US$472 million to Tanzania, citing the post-electoral crisis on the Isles. The terms, and possibly even the size, of a planned Eurobond issue would also be affected.

Even the usually timid East African Community (EAC), which observed the October 2015 vote, has criticised the absence of a mechanism to appeal disputed results. Although other election observation missions (EOMs) run by the European Union (EU), Commonwealth, AU, and Southern African Development Community (SADC) have yet to release their reports on the polls, all commended the 25 October elections and expressed “great concern” following Jecha’s announcement to annul the count. Behind the scenes, ambassadors are calling for reconciliation and dialogue rather than another divisive election. International observers are unlikely to be invited to observe proceedings on 20 March.

In their absence, elections are likely to take place in a tense environment, in which known opposition sympathisers may be too afraid to leave home for fear of violent reprisals. Others, less engaged in politics between general elections, will be despondent after months of crisis and unlikely to turn out. If only a few thousand Zanzibaris cast ballots for the presidency, then the victor could find he has a very weak mandate to govern.


Problematic processes

From a technical perspective, it is hard to believe that the elections scheduled for 20 March 2016 can be any more credible than those organised by the ZEC on 25 October 2015.

Jecha has not allowed time for Zanzibar’s parties to select new candidates for the Isles’ House of Representatives and local councils – or indeed to campaign for election. Rather, he has assumed that Maalim Seif and Dr Shein will again be their party’s candidates for the presidency, ruling out the possibility of a brokered solution where both men resolve to stand aside in the interests of national unity.

Reprinting the same ballot papers and using the same voters’ register as in October 2015 neglects the possibility that members of the electorate – and indeed candidates for the three tiers of government – may have died in the interim, while disenfranchising those who have come of age or indeed wished to stand for election.


A predetermined result

Most remarkably, the outcome of new elections is already a fait accompli. Following a constitutional amendment, approved by popular referendum in July 2010, the second placed party is invited to nominate a candidate for the first vice-presidency and to nominate ministers in a GNU. Given that Maalim Seif’s name is already on the ballot papers, and that many of his supporters may find themselves deterred from turning out due to a heavy police presence, CUF would likely come second. According to the Isles’ constitution, the party will be invited to join the government, again as junior partners.

After five years of working alongside Dr Shein and demonstrating that CUF is a responsible party of government, only to find himself ostracised when he does finally defeat his superior at the ballot box, even the unshakeable Maalim Seif may not have the stomach to put himself through another term as first vice-president.


Nick Branson is a Senior Researcher at Africa Research Institute.