Uncertainty hung over the Zanzibar election re-run set for the weekend as the main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF) maintained it would to boycott the election, terming in illegal and unconstitutional.
The election was cancelled in October over alleged irregularities and a rerun ordered, after the CUF candidate Seif Hamad Sharrif declared himself the winner.
The government says security has been tightened to ensure peace prevails and people turn out to vote but CUF says some Zanzibaris have fled the Isles to Tanzania mainland, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ahead of the election out of fear of violence after the announcement of the election outcome early in the week.
Magdalena Sakaya, CUF deputy secretary-general told reporters on Thursday that people were also leaving the Isles out of fear of intimidation and said that key CUF leaders who had criticised the police for the intimidation were arrested and detained.
"The security situation is worrying and people are scared that anything could happen to them. People are leaving the Isles out of fear," Ms Sakaya said.
The departure of people together with the boycott of the election by CUF and nine other opposition parties, are expected to have major impact on the voter turnout. Zanzibar has 503,193 registered voters, according to the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Contingents of soldiers and police officers have been deployed to the Isles to maintain peace and order and most Zanzibar streets have been empty from 6pm since Monday with only security patrols to be seen.
Home Affairs Minister Charles Kitwanga met with heads of all security organs in Zanzibar late on Thursday and asked them to make sure that peace prevailed on the Isles during the election."I ask all the Zanzibaris to come out and vote in large numbers without fear on March 20. Our security forces are well prepared to ensure the election is held peacefully," Mr Kitwanga said at a press conference after the meeting in Zanzibar.
Dr Alley Nassor, a senior lecturer at Zanzibar State University, said some people were complaining that their relatives who support CUF had been picked up by the police and put in custody without being charged.
Dr Nassor further said that navy ships have been bringing soldiers and police officers in broad daylight to Zanzibar, but said the majority of soldiers and police officers had been deployed to Pemba Island.
CUF's boycott means the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi's candidate Dr Ali Mohammed Shein is certain to win the election, but questions are being asked over how the Zanzibar Electoral Commission will validate the election and how CCM will form the government without CUF.
Section 39 of the Zanzibar Constitution stipulates that the First Vice-President of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar should come from the party that takes the second position in the presidential race.
On the face of it, this benefits the Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC), which with other seven opposition parties announced late Thursday that they would participate in the election. The ADC, formed in 2012 by Hamad Rashid Mohamed, a former CUF MP is seen as the second biggest opposition party despite not having a seat in the House of Representative.
However, the Constitution also stipulates that should the party fail to secure at least 10 per cent of the total vote cast, or in the event that the winner of the presidential race did not have a challenger, the position of the First Vice-President be given to the party which became second in terms of the total number of seats in the House of Representative.
The decision by Mr Hamad, who was previously a Wawi MP on the CUF ticket but defected and formed his own political party following internal wrangles in 2012, is seen as a plan to elevate the party as the main opposition party on the Isles.
Dr Nassor sees limited options for CUF and says the most likely scenario would be CCM winning and forming the government without CUF. However, the aftermath would be CUF lobbying the international community to declare that the election was illegitimate.
Two party contest
However, given that Zanzibar politics is dominated by CUF and CCM, it is still unclear whether ADC will secure enough seat in the House of Representatives to become the main opposition party, helping its leader secure the constitutional mandate to become the First Vice-President.
Mr Sharrif, the CUF secretary-general who was also the party's presidential candidate in the October 2015 election, has for the past three months been travelling to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Dar es Salaam for medical treatment. He has seen been staying at the Serena Hotel while in Zanzibar and people close to him told The EastAfrican that he would be at the hotel recovering during the Zanzibar election over the weekend.
The international community has maintained a low profile since CCM claimed they were interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country after former Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan failed to resolve the electoral crisis last December.
A senior diplomat told The EastAfrican that the international community was not thinking of any immediate action against the government over the Zanzibar election.
The source further said US Secretary of State John Kerry had tried to call President John Magufuli early this past week to discuss the Zanzibar situation but President Magufuli reportedly asked him to talk instead to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, East Africa, Regional and International Co-operation, Dr Augustine Mahiga.
Dr Mahiga could not be reached for verification.
However, James Duddridge, the UK Minister for African Affairs who visited Tanzania last week and met with President Magufuli, wrote a letter to The EastAfrican this week that he raised his government's concerns with the ministers he met over the question of Zanzibar."I stressed that the only way to ensure peace and stability prevail is to respect the will of the Zanzibari people and the democratic process. I hope that even at this late stage, all parties can engage in a meaningful dialogue to agree a solution," Mr Duddridge wrote.
Ms Sakaya could not outline the CUF plan for the moment but said that her party wanted the international community to intervene and condemn the brutality against innocent people taking place on the Isles.
A cross-section of political analysts interviewed by The EastAfrican said that CCM will win by significant margin on the island of Unguja where it enjoys considerate support but will lose on Pemba Island where all 18 parliamentary seats are held by CUF. The voter turnout in Pemba may be lower because previous incidents of involved CCM supporters going to vote being beaten up and their homes set on fire.
Depending on how events unfold after the election, CUF will most likely use its presence in the Union parliament -- where it has 42 MPs, the highest number to have been attained by the party since multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1995 -- to express their grievances over the Zanzibar situation.
Ahead of the re-run, a blast rocked the residence of the Zanzibar police chief Hamdan Omar Makame but there were no casualties. Already, Zanzibar police have arrested 42 people in connection to the blast but CUF official Hamad Masoud Hamad is being held for questioning for "'information an clarification from him."
Last week, some houses on Pemba, were torched. North Pemba Regional Police Commander (RPC) Hassan Nassir said the torching of houses in Kangagani, Micheweni and Gando in the region was carried out using petrol.
In a separate incident, a building housing a CCM supporters' club popularly known as "maskan" at Tibirinzi area was also torched. The latest incidents follow the burning of five houses on Pemba, owned by CUF members.