9 January 2016

Tanzania: Zanzibar Plans Election Rerun As Party Talks Forge Ahead

Photo: Al Jazeera
File photo.

The Zanzibar government has announced plans to hold a rerun of the elections in February, amid international and domestic pressure to resolve a stalemate after the results of the October 2015 General Election were nullified following claims of irregularities.

Zanzibar's main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), has protested the decision to hold fresh elections, calling on Zanzibaris to ignore the announcement because a new poll date should not have been set while talks between the parties are still underway.

Seif Ali Idd, Zanzibar's second vice-president said at a press briefing last week that fresh polls would be held, and the government had already set aside $3.4 million (Tsh7.5 billion) for the election rerun.

"The elections results were nullified due to massive cheating and a rerun is inevitable. We want people to focus on national development of our islands as we wait for the elections," said Mr Idd.

Mediation efforts

The announcement has brought into question the relevance of mediation efforts that have been going on since October. The Commonwealth had recommended that former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan lead peace efforts, and he was expected to arrive in the country early this year.

However, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and CUF started talks to find a solution after questions were raised on the legality of President Mohammed Shein's stay in power. CCM and the Zanzibar government have both defended President Shein on the grounds that Section 28 (1) of Zanzibar's Constitution allows the current government to stay on until a new president is sworn in.

Those taking part in the CCM and CUF talks include Dr Shein, former Tanzania mainland president Jakaya Kikwete, former Zanzibar president Abeid Karume, CUF Secretary General Seif Hamad, and former Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

The talks are held behind closed doors resulting in lack of information about the status of the discussions.

At the press briefing, Mr Idd said the purpose of the talks was to maintain peace and stability in Zanzibar, but not to avoid fresh polls. He said the parties would soon issue a joint statement on the progress of the talks.

CUF deputy spokesperson Ismail Jussa asked party supporters to ignore the government announcement for fresh polls, saying it was improbable for such a decision to be made before the outcome of the ongoing talks was reached.

Last month, CUF asked its presidential candidate, Mr Sharrif not to take part in a fresh election if the government made such a decision. The party wants him to be announced as the winner of the election and sworn in as president.

"We are asking CCM to wait until the outcome of the ongoing talks is known," Mr Jussa said.

The international community has continued to put pressure on the government to announce the poll results, fearing that the current political impasse could breed radicalised youths. They maintain that the elections were free and fair.

The announcement for fresh elections coincided with the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) monthly economic review for October, which shows that export of goods decreased from $79.9 million to $43.9 million, increasing the current account deficit to $140.3 million from $40.5 million in October 2014.

Despite fears that the elections would keep visitors away from the islands due fears of political tension, the BoT economic report shows that tourist arrivals increased, with earnings of $73.6 million from $55.2 million in 2014.

CUF had hoped that the impasse would lead to public pressure to announce the election results, but most people went about their normal activities. In past elections, public protests left hundreds injured.

During the campaign period, CUF had been preaching peace and asking its supporters not to hold protests.

Regardless of who wins in the rerun, Zanzibar is likely to be under political tension as CUF blames mainland CCM for meddling with Zanzibar affairs, and CCM claims that Oman and the Arab world are supporting CUF's efforts to maintain an upper hand in Zanzibar politics in order to return the sultanate that was overthrown during the Zanzibar Revolution in 1962.

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