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Tanzania General Elections 2015: A Defeat for Africa's Longest Ruling Party?

Former Tanzanian Prime Minister and main opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa. Photo by TZA One and released under Creative Commons.

Will the former Tanzanian Prime Minister and main opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa unseat the ruling party? Photo by TZA One and released under Creative Commons.

The October 30 General Elections will be the most tightly contested election in Tanzania’s history since the introduction of multiparty politics in 1992. That is because of a sudden twist in the otherwise predictable plot of the country's domestic politics which saw a number of high profile defections to the main opposition party, Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

Two former Prime Ministers, Edward Lowassa, the presidential candidate for the opposition bloc Ukawa, (made up of four political parties, including Chadema) and Frederick Sumaye, both left the comfort of the ruling party this summer. The hugely popular and charismatic Lowassa defected in late July after he was eliminated from the list of presidential candidates for CCM.

The high profile defections have presented the opposition with a real chance of crushing CCM, which having been in power for the last 51 years is the longest-ruling party in Africa.

In an article written for the Huffington Post, the President of the opposition party Chadema Freeman Mbowe says that the CCM’s fear of losing has led the party and its government to resort to increasingly dictatorial methods to maintain its grip on power:

Moved by fear of losing, the ruling party is now resorting to undemocratic methods to maintain its grip on power. First, they passed a Draconian election expenses act which forbids the importation of any campaign materials, including flags, vehicles and finances, 90 days before the polling date. This deadline fell three weeks before the party's official nomination day. How can any candidate purchase materials before they know they are the official nominee?

On Monday, the police arrested 19 Chadema youths who were signing up supporters. They were arrested for the simple act of public campaigning. When the former Home Affairs Minister Lawrence Masha went to the police station to request their release, they arrested him, too.

The next day, the police ruled that our candidate Lowassa could not meet with the public. CCM was shocked by the public reception the former prime minister received when he drove on a bus to bring attention to the desperate need for better public transportation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city.

Increasingly, the police are blocking our campaign's travel routes and disallowing our campaign plane from using airports. They have refused to grant our rally permits in the very grounds CCM held a rally only a few days before.

Finally, the government announced on September 1st, they will begin enforcing its free-speech suppressing “Cyber Security Act,” which makes it a crime to criticize the government in emails or across social media.

However, looking at the elections in general terms, Frank Charnas noted that the pre-vote competition shows Africa is becoming “more at ease with democracy”. He also pointed out that the outcome of the election will not only affect Tanzania:

Put together, the upcoming Tanzanian elections are indicative of a continent becoming more at ease with democracy, and realising the power of a united and organised opposition. It will take a concerted effort to unseat the CCM, but momentum appears to be behind Lowassa and his coalition, thus setting up what are expected to be the closest elections in the country’s history, the outcome of which is sure to affect not just Tanzania, but the region and the continent as a whole.

It is no wonder that Twitter is abuzz with election-related opinions and insights:

For one, this will undoubtedly be the most “tech-savy” election in Tanzanian history, wrote Robert Kasenene:

In reference to the conviction of the son of Senegalese president, Karim Wade, for corruption, Marielaura observed:

While in Tanzania corrupt politicians get off scot free and even compete in elections

Tanzanian blogger Jeff Msangi considered this year’s election to be a “wild card game”:

While some took note of the rise of a politically engaged youth in the country:

Political awareness is high this time around, wrote Straight Talk Africa:

But who will be to blame if the ruling party loses? Many think incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete:

This is the first time that Penny Kims has seen the ruling party scared:

Barak Bob and Penny Kims advised voters:

Corruption has taken center stage in pre-election campaigns:

While the high profile defections have given birth to ‘democrazy’ according to one tweep:

Ma Mary would like to see the ruling party and the opposition form a government together:

Will this be the re-making of Tanzanian and African political history?

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