Dar es Salaam: A record 29,1 million Tanzanians went to the polls yesterday in an exercise characterized by an internet blockade and allegations of electoral fraud and police shootings.
President John Magufuli of the Chama Cha Mapenduzi (CCM) -who is seeking re-election-faces stiff challenge from opposition Tundu Lissu of the Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) party, among 13 other presidential contenders.
Voting in the country’s sixth general election since adopting the multi-party elections in 1995 closed and election results are expected within a week.
Lissu, who returned from Belgium in July where he had underwent treatment for gunshots wounds suffered in an assassination attempt three years ago, alleged massive vote rigging by the ruling party.
“I am not content with the manner in which the National Electoral Council (NEC) supervised the national elections today, there are great violations of electoral procedures,” Lissu tweeted. He added that there was evidence of ‘shameless’ vote rigging.
Another opposition party, ACT-Wazalendo alleged its presidential candidate for Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, was briefly detained at a polling station where he had gone to cast his vote, while nine people were shot dead by security forces as they had a standoff over alleged vote-stuffing in ballot boxes.
US Ambassador Donald Wright urged a stop to the bloodshed and also tweeted that ‘Security forces must show restraint, and the NEC (National Electoral Commission) & ZEC (Zanzibar Electoral Commission) must carry out their duties with integrity”
Several reports of arrests of agents and contestants also filtered from different areas of the country. Major complains came from the agents of the main opposition CHADEMA being denied entrance to the voting stations and the arrest and injury of some of the contestants.
In the Tanga region of Northern Tanzania, the police have arrested three agents of CHADEMA on claims of causing panic at the station.
Regional police commander Blasius Chitanda said that the agents of CHADEMA and ACT-Wazalendo were arrested at Tongoni station and at the county executive office of Southern Ngamiani. Chatanda said the agents are being held for questioning due to the chaos that arose in some of the stations to a point of restricting some people from voting.
In Monduli, Arusha of Northern Tanzania, out of the 22 stations present, agents from CHADEMA have been restricted entrance in 17 of the stations despite having a letter from the electoral coordinator.
In some of the stations in Kawe and Kinondoni, there were armed security details carrying backpacks, a situation which made many citizens question what was contained within these bags.
In Kawe and Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam, some agents were assigned to different voting stations without any official statements and were forced to travel long distances while voting continued.
Social media cites were blocked by government and internet users had to turn to virtual private networks (VPNs) which also were proving difficult to access, according to Netblocks, a digital rights, cyber-security and internet watchdog which tracks disruptions across the globe.
“Network data from the NetBlocks Internet Observatory confirm widespread disruption to social media and online communication platforms via multiple internet providers in Tanzania as of Tuesday 27 October 2020,” the organisation said in a statement yesterday.
It added; “Real-time metrics show that Twitter, WhatsApp, backend servers for Instagram and some Google services including GMail and Translate are generally or partially unavailable via Tanzania’s leading network operators Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Halotel and ZanTel. Meanwhile, data indicate a more generalized disruption of services on state-owned operator TTCL, the Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation.”
Calls for Vodafone boycott
There are calls for a boycott of Vodafone over its complicity in the internet blockade, with British MPs raising concerns over the company’s involvement in the censorship matrix, according to The Telegraph.
The UK Vodafone Group owns Tanzania’s leading telecoms, Vodacom Tanzania.
Not a secret ballot
Speaking right after casting his vote, CUF presidential candidate Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba said the ballot was not secret because the voters number was being entered into the voting sheet and another remaining sheet which is found in the permanent voters’ book that could identify the voters and who they voted for.
“On the voters sheet, they take your voters card number and after it is written, you go and vote. It is not a secret vote because the voters card number has been written on the voters voting sheet. If someone reads the voters number and goes on a website, one is able to determine who the voter is, so every vote cast can easily be determined on who voted and who the person voted for,” he said.
Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and formerly the Director of the African Studies Centre at Oxford University and author of the book ‘How to Rig an Election‘, said the polls would be disputed.
“Let’s be clear: the Tanzanian election is worse than the Zimbabwean election of 2018 by the same point- & we know how that ended. The silence of other African and international countries is deafening,” he tweeted.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) chair of the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation, Mokgweetsi Masisi, the president of Botswana, in a statement on the Tanzanian polls issued Tuesday, said the regional bloc had not deployed observers due to COVID 19 fears.
“In view of the challenges brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic, the SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) could not be physically deployed to the United Republic of Tanzania. Instead, SADC adopted a virtual approach of consultation with electoral stakeholders in the furtherance of the consolidation of democracy in the region, in accordance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2015)” Masisi said.
East African Community (EAC), which has called for peace and order during the polls said it has deployed elections observers to Tanzania at the request of United Republic of Tanzania.
Tanzanians voted for 5350 councilors, 390 members at 80,155 polling stations.