Voting Begins in Tanzania Amid Violence in Zanzibar and Social Media Restrictions

A Tanzanian police officer directs a woman at at a polling station in the outskirts of Stone Town, Zanzibar, on October 28, 2020. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

October 29, 2020//-The polls for presidential and parliamentary elections opened in Tanzania on Wednesday after several days of unrest in Zanzibar and attempts by the government to block social media platforms including Twitter.

President John Magufuli faces main opposition candidate Tundu Lissu, who returned from Belgium in July where he had been living in voluntary exile after surviving an assassination attempt in Tanzania’s capital city of Dodoma in 2017.

Rights groups and international observers have voiced concerns about alleged attempts by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party to stifle support for the opposition by blocking access to social media platforms.

Twitter posted reports on Tuesday of internet shutdowns, while Vodacom Tanzania, a subsidiary of the UK telecoms giant Vodafone, has been accused by internet users of following a government directive to block text messages containing the names of opposition figures.

While Magufuli is praised by his supporters for cracking down on corruption, standing up to exploitative foreign companies and fostering large infrastructure projects, his critics say he has turned Tanzania into a dictatorship.

Disruption came to a head yesterday in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, when opposition figures attempted to disrupt an early vote in which they accused the CCM of attempting to push unregistered voters through the ballot boxes.

The Zanzibar-based opposition ACT-Wazalendo party claims that 10 people died at the hands of police so far this week, and approximately 50 people were injured as a result of clashes with security forces.

ACT-Wazalendo’s candidate for Zanzibar president Maalim Seif was detained yesterday before being released.

Sources told African Business on Wednesday that two polling stations have been taken over in Zanzibar by security forces, and ACT-Wazalendo’s agents have been denied entry.

Zanzibar is key to ruling party plans at this election based on the belief of some observers that Magufuli is hoping to change the constitution to allow him to extend term limits.

To do this he must secure an absolute majority in both Zanzibar and on the mainland.

“I’m alarmed by reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths, and detentions. It’s not too late to prevent more bloodshed! Security forces must show restraint, and the NEC & ZEC must carry out their duties with integrity. Let’s all pray for peaceful, fair elections,” said US ambassador to Tanzania, Donald J. Wright.

While Zanzibar is reportedly calm this morning, attention turns to the mainland where around 59m people will cast their votes today.

Sources told African Business that the atmosphere was peaceful in the economic capital of Dar es Salaam, though the turnout is expected to be low as queues are not yet forming outside polling stations.

However, reports early on Wednesday from the Kilimanjaro region indicate that the chairman of the main opposition Chadema party Freeman Mbowe was raided by police in his hotel and his bodyguards were beaten.

“There has been systematic violence directed against members of the opposition,” said Khalifa Said, a freelance investigative journalist based in Dar es Salaam.

Opposition strongholds like Arusha, Mbeya, Tarime, Lindi and Mtwara have a high risk of violence, according to Said.

Tundu Lissu is casting his vote in the Central Region but is expected to return to Dar es Salaam this afternoon to address supporters.

The East African Community, the only international observer mission that has been granted access to Tanzania, has called for “peace and order.”

Voting begins in Tanzania amid violence in Zanzibar and social media restrictions

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