Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Tanzania votes in tight presidential election race

AFP, DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania

A woman shows her inked finger yesterday, after casting her vote at a polling station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during the presidential and parliamentary election.

Photo: Reuters

Tanzanians voted in presidential and general elections yesterday, in what was expected to be the tightest race in the history of east Africa’s most populous country.

Long lines of voters began gathering hours before dawn in the main city of Dar es Salaam, with centers there opening on time at 7am and queues moving quickly.

Analysts said the presidential race would pit John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), seen as the narrow favorite, against former Tanzanian prime minister Edward Lowassa, a CCM stalwart who recently defected to the opposition Chadema, heading a coalition of parties.

Both have spent the past two months flying by helicopter across the country wooing voters, holding colorful rallies with thousands of flag-waving supporters.

Analysts have warned that the unusually tight race could spark tensions, with the opposition providing the first credible challenge to the CCM since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1995.

“I want to lead the country to development and good welfare,” Magufuli said in one of his final campaign speeches. “Everyone deserves a better life irrespective of his or her political inclination.”

Many believe 55-year old Magufuli — currently minister of works, for which he earned the nickname “The Bulldozer” — will face a tough challenge from Lowassa, 62.

Lowassa was prime minister from 2005 until his resignation in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies and has spent years being one of the CCM’s strongest supporters, but on the campaign trail he has called for an end to the party’s rule.

“This regime has outlived its usefulness,” Lowassa said at his final rally late on Saturday, repeating his calls to “kick CCM out of office, the regime that has failed the nation for all the 54 years it has been in office.”

Lowassa was one of the first to cast his vote in the remote center at Ngarash, in the northern Arusha district.

Outgoing Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is not running as he has already served his constitutional two-term limit, has ordered the police to boost security to ensure peaceful voting in the country of about 52 million people.

Kikwete, at a final rally for the CCM, made a rare direct attack on Lowassa — a long-time former colleague — who he called “corrupt and greedy,” and accused of seizing land illegally while lands minister.

“This is going to be the toughest, but most exciting election in the country’s history,” said Pius Msekwa, a former CCM party vice-chairman and vice chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam.

Polls closed at 4pm, and election officials say they expect the results of the presidential race within three days.

“If you lose, accept defeat,” former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who heads a team of Commonwealth election observers, said ahead of the vote.

As well as a presidential race, voters also cast ballots in parliamentary and local polls, including on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, just off mainland Tanzania, which will also holds presidential elections.

Both Magufuli and Lowassa have made repeated calls for the preservation of peace and national unity in speeches denouncing tribalism, religious violence and corruption.

On Zanzibar, campaigning has been largely peaceful, but residents have stockpiled food and water, fearful of possible unrest after the polls on islands, famed for their pristine white sand beaches and UNESCO-listed architecture.

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