General elections will be held in Tanzania on Wednesday, October 28.
In the build-up to the vote, President John Magufuli’s administration has been intensifying its crackdown on the opposition as he seeks a second term in office.
Earlier this month, the National Electoral Committee (NEC) imposed a week-long ban on Mr Magufuli’s biggest challenger, the Democracy Party’s (Chadema) Tundu Lissu.
Just over a week later, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) also banned the Alliance for Change and Transparency’s (ACT-Wazalendo) presidential candidate for Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, from campaigning in the semi-autonomous region for five days.
Mr Hamad is the biggest challenger in the Zanzibar race to the ruling Revolutionary Party’s (CCM) candidate, Hussein Mwinyi.
Mr Magufuli received a great amount of praise when he came into office in 2015. He publicly fired officials who were considered to be corrupt or underperforming.
However, as his time in office progressed, he increasingly closed up on the democratic space in Tanzania.
The media nicknamed him ‘Bulldozer’, or ‘Tingatina’ in Swahili, initially because of his directives as the minister of public works, but the name has stuck due to his aggressive ways as president.
Over the years, his administration has made it essentially impossible to express dissent from the ruling regime without facing legal consequences.
When Mr Magufuli took office in 2015, Tanzania ranked 75th in the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index. It is now 124th.
Opposition politicians and journalists who speak up are subject to arrests and intimidation by state security forces, which has resulted in self-censorship.
In August, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority banned local media from broadcasting foreign content without state approval and made a law that requires foreign journalists to be accompanied by a government-appointed officer when covering local stories.
Mr Lissu, despite his high international profile, has been subject to serious intimidation by state security forces. In September, police teargassed his convoy.
Local media seems reluctant to cover his campaign, but the large, enthusiastic crowds are well documented on social media.
Censorship has also made it difficult to determine how strong the general support for Mr Lissu is.
The only opinion polls ahead of these elections show that the public favours Mr Magufuli, but this should not be viewed as the whole truth.
In 2018, civil society organisation Twaweza published an opinion poll showing that Mr Magufuli’s popularity had plummeted. The government subsequently banned Twaweza head Aiden Eyakuze from travelling outside Tanzania and made it mandatory for organisations to get state approval before publishing surveys.
Cooperation between the opposition parties may help them.
Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo initially entered what they called a ‘loose collaboration’, but on 16 October, the chairperson of the latter party, Zitto Kabwe, officially pledged his support for Mr Lissu in a statement.
After the Registrar of Political Parties informed them that it was too late to form a coalition, Mr Kabwe made it clear that the parties are merely endorsing each other’s presidential candidates.
Parliamentary and council candidates will still contest on their own parties’ tickets.
Mr Kabwe also wrote in an article published in South Africa’s Daily Maverick that “the best way to remove Magufuli … is for [the opposition] to unite behind Lissu”.
He has called upon other opposition parties to follow ACT-Wazalendo and “do what is best for Tanzania”.
ACT-Wazalendo’s presidential candidate for the Union presidency, Bernard Membe, has not campaigned since early September without any reason given, but, at a press conference on Monday, October 19, he reiterated that he was still in the running for the presidency.
He also warned religious leaders to avoid directing their followers to vote for a particular candidate, as it would trigger “religious violence that is not easy to resolve”.
Although the opposition parties are endorsing each other’s candidates, Mr Magufuli is likely to win a second term in office, even if it is by illegal means.
The 2015 elections in Zanzibar is an indication that the ruling party is willing to do whatever it takes to secure a victory, which will further contribute to the deterioration of democracy in Tanzania.
In his second term in office, we expect that Mr Magufuli’s administration will intensify its tight grip on civil society and continue on this path of authoritarianism.
If he is re-elected, Mr Magufuli has promised to continue strengthening the country’s economy, fighting corruption, and improving key infrastructure to facilitate business operations, such as the oil pipeline agreement recently signed with Uganda, but his authoritarian streak has resulted in some intimidation of foreign companies and has had a negative effect on investment.
We think such incidents will keep happening in his second term and will keep making potential investors cautious.
Zaynab Mohamed – Political Analyst