Menu Close

Tanzania’s ruling party wins election (again), but poll is annulled in Zanzibar

Presidential candidate for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party casts his vote on October 25. Reuters

Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been announced as the winner of the country’s election, extending its 54-year reign for another five years. Its presidential candidate John Magufuli won 58.46% of the vote, although there have been calls for a recount by the opposition.

Despite CCM’s victory, the parliamentary and presidential elections on October 25 were the most competitive the country has ever seen and mark a decisive shift in Tanzanian politics.

Tanzania has a reputation as a peaceful country where election violence is virtually unknown outside of the island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous state with its own elected president. A rapid degeneration in trust after the poll – and the nullification of the election in Zanzibar over concerns they were not free and fair – has brought the country into uncharted territory.

Ruling party divided

This campaign season has laid bare the entrenched factionalism within CCM. What was once a highly-centralised, bureaucratic party is increasingly split by rival networks of competing political elites. These networks link national political figures, influential financiers, and regional and local party leaders, who are in many areas grouped into personalised political machines.

Faction tensions reached fever pitch during the CCM presidential nomination process last June and July. A leading contender was Edward Lowassa, a former prime minister in the first government of the outgoing president Jakaya Kikwete before he resigned over a corruption scandal in 2008.

This fall from grace set Lowassa at loggerheads with Kikwete, his former political ally. It is widely accepted that Kikwete personally intervened to ensure Lowassa did not get the CCM nomination despite enjoying widespread support. The nomination instead fell to John Magufuli, a long-time minister with no clear factional affiliation.

Lowassa responded to his exclusion by defecting to the opposition, where he was selected as the presidential candidate for the coalition known by its Swahili acronym, Ukawa. Lowassa brought with him a wave of other defectors from CCM, including more former ministers and local party cadres, especially from his home area in the Arusha region where his personal network is strongest.

This development fundamentally changed the election calculus, giving the opposition a shot at winning the presidency for the first time since Tanzania’s independence.

A united opposition

Tanzania’s opposition parties were in a relatively strong position even before Lowassa’s entry.

Four parties – Chadema, Civic United Front, National Convention for Construction and Reform-Mageauzi, and National League for Democracy – united in the Ukawa coalition in 2014 and had agreed to field joint parliamentary and district council candidates in the 2015 elections. Chadema, now Tanzania’s leading opposition party, had also built up its local party structures since the previous election in 2010, and had managed to implant itself in areas where previously it had only a slight presence.

Lowassa’s arrival at the helm may have cost the opposition some of its support, particularly as parties such as Chadema built their reputation as anti-corruption crusaders and were now seen to embrace Lowassa, a politician long-maligned for corruption, which he denies. CCM took advantage of this situation during the election campaigns, branding the opposition hypocrites.

Edward Lowassa, presidential flagbearer for the opposition Ukawa coalition, at a pre-election rally. Reuters

Even so, the opposition momentum only grew with Lowassa drawing huge crowds at election rallies. CCM meanwhile was struggling with its own flagging legitimacy, seeming to rely on the relatively untainted image of its presidential candidate, Magufuli, to carry the day. More sceptical observers tended to question both candidates’ promise of “change”.

What the results tell us

The election results published so far on the Tanzanian mainland reveal interesting patterns. CCM’s lead in both the presidential and parliamentary elections reveal the ruling party’s continued popular support, despite internal divisions and a resurgent opposition.

But a number of factors suggest that the basis for that support is more fragile than a superficial reading of the results first implies.

In a country where politics do not generally play out along ethnic lines – certainly not compared with neighbouring Kenya – it is striking that the home regions of both the candidates Magufuli (Lake Victoria) and Lowassa (Arusha) have swung strongly in their favour. It would be a mistake, though, to interpret these swings as a marker of purely “ethnic” voting. Both Magufuli and Lowassa’s areas are ethnically diverse, making it difficult to rely on one group to win a victory.

There is a rational assessment voters make whereby they judge that having a president from their area – regardless of ethnicity – will ensure development gains for everyone. Whichever way you choose to interpret this regional vote, it does add to the perception of a more personalised politics where party allegiance is pegged to personal networks.

Much has been made of the growing number of CCM big-wigs who have lost in the elections so far. An emblematic case was the defeat of Stephen Wasira, a minister under three different presidents and a top-ranking CCM official. Wasira lost to a young woman, Esther Bulaya, who stood out as a CCM MP critical of government in the last parliamentary session before defecting to Chadema (ahead of Lowassa) earlier this year.

This result speaks to a growing popular disillusionment with a CCM old guard, its yes-man politics and its apparent inability to address critical issues, such as corruption.

Queries pour in

While polling went smoothly on the day, vote tallying has raised serious concerns to the point where both sides are now accusing the other of foul play.

The day after the poll, police raided a number of Chadema vote tallying centres and eight volunteers were later charged with publishing false election results under the newly enacted and much criticised Cyber Crimes Act. This incident prompted a volley of accusations and counter-accusations from Chadema and CCM.

More worrying was the decision made by the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) on October 28 to nullify the Zanzibar elections on the basis of vague allegations of “irregularities”. This came after the opposition presidential candidate for Zanzibar announced he had won and security forces surrounded a hotel where ZEC commissioners and international election observers were staying.

The opposition sees the ZEC announcement – issued just as vote-counting was nearing completion – as a panicked response to CCM losing the election in Zanzibar. Lowassa has also responded by calling into question results published by the National Electoral Commission responsible for counting votes for the Union President and National Assembly candidates for the mainland and Zanzibar.

Political leaders are calling for calm, but so long as accusations continue to fly, the potential for a dangerous escalation cannot be ruled out.

As it stands, the elections in Tanzania have proved historic. Even though there has not been a transfer of power, the poll unveiled the extent of factional divisions within CCM as never before. They also testify to a public desire for “change”, particularly within Tanzania’s growing youth population.

This article was co-published with the website Presidential Power

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 171,200 academics and researchers from 4,743 institutions.

Register now