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An election looms: a post from the Zanzibar archipelago

As we’re getting back to normal life after our election, Tanzania is gearing up for theirs. Amid a continent of countries suffering the effects of famine and civil war, Tanzania is considered to be one of the success stories, with widespread religious tolerance, and moderate and balanced politics. Five years since the last election, the incumbent party Chama Chama Mapinduzi (CCM) and its leader Kikwete are out and about in the countryside on the campaign trail. Winning power on the mainland looks to be a sure thing for them. But on Pemba and Uguju, the two main islands of the Zanzibari archipelago, things are quite different.

Since the early 90s, when the Tanzanian constitution was amended to legalise opposition parties, the mainlanders have had three relatively smooth elections. The CCM has ruled continuously and the country has been plodding along much the same since its independence from Britain in 1961.

On the islands, where the vote is split almost exactly down the middle between the CCM and the opposition party, the Civic United Front (CCF), the elections for the Zanzibari presidency have been far from smooth.

The islands denounced the 1995 election for its dishonesty: there were claims that the opposition leader should have won, despite the ballots announcing the CCM candidate victorious. After the 2000 election, the CUF called for people to demonstrate against the outcome of the election after the CCM again won power. The government announced that the protests were illegal and cracked down. On Pemba, around 40 people were killed.

But amazingly, as election day looms, spectators are hopeful for a peaceful election on the islands.

A power sharing arrangement has already been negotiated for the islands, so the election will only determine which candidates hold which positions. International Observers have been based on the islands, overseeing the creation of a new electoral roll to remove alleged inaccuracies (intentional or otherwise) of previous lists.

But there are small things still niggling at the edges. The government was quietly working towards a system of national identity cards, which was met with general suspicion and reluctance: what was the purpose of such cards? But in July this year, when it was announced that only people who had ID cards would be eligible to get themselves on the new electoral roll, Zanzibari citizens were unsurprisingly upset, especially when it was discovered that CCM party members had by and large managed to kit themselves out with the cards. Everyone else had seven days to get theirs.

At the time, the CUF estimated that 20 000 voters would be excluded from the electoral process.

And then there are those other things that might just be getting in the way of democracy in Tanzania. The constitution allows the incumbent president to engage up to ten non-elected members of parliament. The opposition, particularly on the islands, is beginning to splinter, which means a less viable opposition for the people to vote for.

So perhaps, even in this most moderate and balanced of African democracies, it is still pole, pole for Tanzania. Slowly, slowly.

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