Youth votes could swing Tanzanian election Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:27pm GMT By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania's presidential candidates made a last-ditch push for votes on Friday before an election on Sunday that is expected to attract record numbers of young voters in east Africa's second largest economy. More than two-thirds of Tanzania's population of 40.7 million are aged between 10 and 35 years, according to government estimates, and analysts say a high turnout by young voters could help the main opposition candidate. "More than ever before, youths are motivated to vote," said Dar es Salaam-based rights activist Ananilea Nkya. "They want to see changes in the way their country is being run." With nearly 20 million people eligible to vote, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and the main opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) have shifted their focus to first-time voters and the tech-savvy middle class. Political parties and supporters are using text messages, video clips on YouTube, updates on Facebook and blogs to woo young first-time voters in a country that suffers from corruption, poverty and poor infrastructure. Like other African countries with limited bandwidth, Internet connectivity is relatively low in Tanzania, but the country has more than 17 million mobile phone users. Many young Tanzanians use mobile phones to connect to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. LEAD DWINDLING According to the latest opinion polls, Willibrod Slaa of the opposition Chadema party has chipped away at incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete's once double-digit lead. The 62-year-old Slaa has been campaigning on a platform of change, with promises to end corruption and review mining contracts in Africa's third largest gold producer. In April, a poll by Redet, a political research arm of the University of Dar es Salaam, gave Kikwete 77.2 percent. In October, another poll by researchers at the university gave the 60-year-old president just 38 percent. Political commentators said young voters, a demographic known for low turnout vote in previous elections, could swing the election. "Victory for Dr Slaa depends on high voters turnout ... a high turnout will bring more independent voters compared to a lower turnout. If the turnout is around or less than 60 percent, that will favour CCM," said political analyst M.M. Mwanakijiji in a post on the popular online discussion portal JamiiForums. An ongoing online opinion poll by Tanzania's leading Swahili newspaper, Mwananchi, gave Slaa 77.1 percent against Kikwete's 17.3 percent of the vote on Friday. A similar poll on JamiiForums gave Slaa 68.88 percent and Kikwete 22.06 percent. Ibrahim Lipumba of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) trails a distant third in all opinion polls. "There is a battle for the cyberspace in the election campaigns and Chadema is winning this battle hands down because of its huge youth support," political analyst Moses Kulaba said. "IN SAFE HANDS" Cecy Semtawa, a 22-year-old first-time voter said she would vote for Slaa because of his pledge to provide free education, healthcare and affordable housing. "Slaa has promised to cut taxes on cement and other building materials so that we can all build decent houses. He seems to be very sincere and is determined to fight corruption. I will vote for that," she said. However, Kikwete, who is seeking a second and final term in office after a campaign dominated by promises to fight corruption and poverty, is still the analysts' favourite to win. Tanzania has enjoyed relative stability in an often unsettled region and has managed to hold three successive multi-party presidential elections since 1995, after more than three decades of one-party rule. "Tanzania is in safe hands under CCM's leadership. We are the only party that can maintain peace and stability," Kikwete told a popular youth radio station on Friday ahead of a planned nationwide television interview later in the day. Analysts said Slaa still faces a challenge of transforming the optimism shown at his well-attended campaign rallies across Tanzania into actual votes. "There are attempts by agents of corruption to influence the outcome of the general election. If we have a free and fair vote, we might see major leadership changes after the polls as a result of the youth vote," activist Nkya said.