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Tanzania: Division and Derision in the United Republic

Tanzania’s eleventh parliament will meet for the first time today (Tuesday 17 November). The opening of the National Assembly – or Bunge ­– follows the inauguration of the nation’s fifth president, John Magufuli, elected on 25 October. Yet, over three weeks after Tanzanians went to the polls, one part of the United Republic is mired in a political crisis.

Zanzibar’s House of Representatives did not return on 12 November, as required by the Isles’ constitution. Six cabinet ministers have resigned from the Zanzibar’s government of national unity (GNU). The incumbent president, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, a stalwart of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), remains in office despite his term in office having elapsed on 2 November.

This limbo follows an unprecedented declaration by Jecha Selim Jecha, the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), in which he unilaterally annulled the vote on the Isles without consulting his fellow commissioners. The Isles’ former attorney general has questioned the legality of Jecha’s decision.

The ZEC chairman cited unspecified irregularities on the northern island of Pemba, where the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) won all 18 seats in 2010. Both Tanzanian and international election observers challenged the announcement, regarding the polls as fairly conducted, while the US embassy called for Jecha to reverse his decision.

The farcical nature of the announcement did not escape the attention of those familiar with the voting process. Jecha may have prevented the ZEC from completing the tally on Zanzibar; but votes cast at the same polling stations were counted by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for the purposes of determining the Union presidency and parliament.

CCM loyalists insist that a new round of elections must now be organised, regardless of the significant cost at a time of budget shortfalls, and potential disruption to the profitable tourist season. CUF maintains that the people have already spoken. After two decades of extremely close results, they have reason to question what appears to be a politically-motivated decision by the ZEC chairman; who is, after all, a presidential appointee and not a technocrat.

CUF also have grounds to believe their candidate won. The party organised parallel vote tabulation (PVT) for these elections. Seif Sharif Hamad, CUF’s secretary-general and presidential candidate for Zanzibar, announced the figures on the morning after polls closed. Although Hamad’s claim that he had won the presidency displayed extraordinary hutzpah, and may have violated the electoral code, the results stand-up to rigorous statistical analysis according to Dr Keith Weghorst.

Prospects for power-sharing

In the light of such seemingly compelling evidence, many will question why CCM remain so reluctant to accept defeat on the Isles. The ruling party should have nothing to fear given that Zanzibar’s constitution provides for a permanent GNU under which the runner-up becomes first vice-president. Hamad occupied that post for the past five years, spurring economic development in historically neglected Pemba. The former teacher and education minister has pledged to form a new GNU, with equal representation for CCM and CUF, once declared president.

Prior to the election academics argued that Zanzibar’s GNU had brought an end to “zero sum” politics. Yet, in conversation with the author, ministers and MPs from the Isles revealed a lack of trust between the parties across both the executive and legislative branches. Incompatible loyalties to party and state meant that some cabinet ministers refused to be bound by collective responsibility, delaying the enactment of policies which they opposed. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has remained under the control of CCM, whose second vice-president led government business rather than CUF’s Hamad.

Legacies of controlled competition

CCM is the longest-serving ruling party on the continent, and the reluctance of its leadership to share power can be traced back to the single-party era. Tanzania’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, established a culture of political competition within the confines of the ruling party. This helped to “recycle” elites while ensuring debates took place within established parameters.

Three of Tanzania’s neighbours – Kenya, Malawi and Zambia – also held comparable elections during the single-party era. Unlike Tanzania, the three nations have subsequently passed the “two turnover test”, whereby a ruling party is voted of office twice. Accordingly, Polity IV classifies the trio as a “democracy” while it regards Tanzania as a “closed anocracy”, comparable with Uganda and Rwanda.

CCM supporters would argue that the party has not been voted out of office because it has maintained peace and security, provided good (enough) governance, promoted inclusive growth, and pursued incremental reforms.

On the mainland at least, this is true. The ruling party has largely avoided confrontation with the opposition – with a few notable exceptions – and catered to its agrarian support base in the centre and south of the country. Politicians have also harnessed the grassroots network which was built during the single-party era, helping CCM to mobilise rural voters.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that elements of the ruling party are unwilling to consider the prospect of ever relinquishing power or conceding long overdue reform. Debates over a proposed constitution exposed a stubborn commitment to a unique dual-government structure, a lopsided arrangement that falls short of being a fully-fledged federation. This constitutional fudge was rushed through during the Cold War.

The manner in which the dominant party managed the constitutional review process proved counter-productive. The refusal of CCM elites to heed important transformative recommendations made by ordinary citizens and legal experts alike galvanised the political opposition. This culminated in the establishment of an alliance of four parties including CUF and Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema).

Urban opposition

United behind a common cause, and boasting a harmonised list of candidates, Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (Ukawa), or Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution, was able to compete in urban constituencies where CCM had hitherto been able to profit from a divided opposition.

The opposition exceeded expectations in Dar es Salaam, where its MPs now outnumber those from CCM. Chadema retained its seats in Ubongo and Kawe, won the new constituency of Kibamba, and took Ukonga from CCM. CUF candidates ousted CCM incumbents in Kinondoni and Temeke. CCM won only four of the ten seats in the city: Ilala, Kigamboni, Segerea and Mbagala.

Uniting behind a presidential candidate, Edward Lowassa, from the Northern Zone enabled Chadema to win a swathe of seats across Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Manyara regions. CUF secured the constituency of Tanga Urban and control of Tanga district council. Yet, opposition advances were cancelled out by Magufuli’s popularity in his native Lake Zone, limiting Chadema gains to Mara and Shinyanga regions. Mwanza, Tanzania’s second city, where Magufuli used to work as a chemist and teacher, remains in the hands of the ruling party. Nationally, CCM’s presidential candidate proved more effective at “getting out the vote”. Of the 6.5 million additional votes cast in 2015 compared to 2010, 3.6 million went to Magufuli.

The opposition failed to challenge CCM hegemony of the rural Central Zone, with the exception of one seat in Tabora, won by CUF, and two falling to the opposition in Kigoma. However, remarkable progress was made in the Southern Highlands, where Chadema won four parliamentary seats in Mbeya and one in Iringa region, in addition to taking control of Mbeya and Iringa town councils. The Coast Zone also saw opposition gains: Chadema took five seats in Morogoro region; CUF four in Lindi region; and both parties secured MPs in Mtwara.

An opportunity for reconciliation

An influx of new legislators – with 40% female representation – will make the eleventh parliament the most representative and dynamic yet. This should provide constituents with a new opportunity to raise hitherto neglected grievances and ensure the proper scrutiny of legislation. However, an increased opposition presence in the chamber will also renew calls for debate over the country’s constitutional settlement.

Faced with international pressure, CCM might be wise to accept its loss in Zanzibar. Making way for the swearing-in of Seif Sharif Hamad as president would buy the new government considerable support from the opposition, enabling the nation to re-start the debate over its constitution from a position of unity, rather than division. This would safeguard the peace and stability which has characterised this east African nation for over half a century. To do otherwise, and ignore the will of the Zanzibari people, risks undermining the very essence of the United Republic.


Nick Branson is a Senior Researcher at Africa Research Institute.

Image credit: Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC)