Tanzania’s election is scheduled for October 28, and although there are 15 parties in contention only two have any real chance of victory.
Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party since independence in 1961, has never lost an election. It is led by incumbent president Dr. John Magufuli who is running for a second term in office. Hoping to upset their dominance is CHADEMA, the main opposition party, who is fielding charismatic lawyer and human rights activist, Tundu Lissu as its presidential candidate.
The ruling party’s campaign has been extremely loud in all mainstream media, and very visible everywhere. President Magufuli’s face and the party’s signature green-and-yellow colours can be found on posters, leaflets and billboards across the country, and coverage of his campaign dominates the news. It helps, of course, that the media space is tightly controlled by the government and its allies. Influential artists and actors, including Diamond Platinumz, Ali Kiba and Harmonize have endorsed his bid for re-election.
You have to look hard to find any sign of Chadema’s blue-black -and-red, either on the streets or on the airwaves. The opposition party has complained that new taxes have made it significantly more expensive to produce electoral materials, and that the media landscape is biased against it. Despite these challenges, Lissu can pull a crowd: CHADEMA rallies are just as full as those for the ruling party. And on social media, where – despite its best efforts – the government has less control, it is clear that the opposition enjoys significant popular support.
Working in Chadema’s favour is an informal deal it has struck with the third biggest party in the country, ACT-Wazalendo, led by Zitto Kabwe. ACT-Wazalendo is asking its supporters to vote for Lissu; in exchange, CHADEMA has endorsed ACT-Wazalendo’s candidate to lead Zanzibar (the island is a semi autonomous region with the Tanzanian federation).
The question now is whether this united opposition front will be enough to unseat a sitting president who is strategically exploiting all the advantages of incumbency. Take the ballot paper itself, a sample of which was released by the electoral commission this week.
Usually, the names of candidates are ordered alphabetically, but this time it is supposed to be random. Sure enough, CCM and Magufuli are first, while CHADEMA and Lissu are last. That’s quite the coincidence.
The election commission has come out defending this as saying it was designed to suit time, for those who returned the nomination forms; first come, first saved bases. CCM was the first party to return forms, while CHADEMA was the last. What a change!