Fears of political violence ahead of Zanzibar’s re-run election on March 20 turned out to be overstated.
Instead, a calm atmosphere – soporific even, if reports of election officials napping at empty stations are true – pervaded on the archipelago as the process was watched over by a bulked-up security force from the mainland.
In the end, results released by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) show that the Revolutionary Party’s (CCM) candidate, Ali Mohamed Shein, received 91.4% of the votes cast. The runner up, Hamad Rashid Mohamed of the Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC), received 3%.
The main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), maintained its boycott of the election and reports indicate that its supporters heeded the call to stay away from the polls that the party considers illegitimate. Officially, the voter turnout was 67.9% (341,865 voters), but the CUF has disputed this, saying that their survey indicated that only 20% of registered voters (100,716) turned out to cast their ballots.
The election was criticised by ambassadors and high commissioners from Western countries who said that they regret the decision of the ZEC to go ahead with the polls rather than finding a negotiated solution to the political impasse. They have called on the Tanzanian government to show leadership and move forward with negotiations despite the March 20 results.
Under the Zanzibar constitution of 2010, the president is meant to appoint the isles’ vice president from the main opposition that received at least 10% of the vote. If there is no opposition with the requisite proportion of votes, the president is meant to give the position to the leader of the party with the second most seats in the House of Representatives.
However, it appears as though the CCM has taken a clean sweep of the House as well. Thus, the question of how to have a GNU in what is effectively now a one-party system is something the drafters of the Zanzibari constitution did not adequately prepare for. This could lead to a constitutional crisis.
With the CUF frustrated by official political channels, it and some of its more radical supporters may seek to continue their political struggle outside of the system.
This raises the threat of violent means being used to oppose what they consider to be an illegitimate, mainland-imposed authority. While there has as yet been no call for supporters to protest, the CUF’s leader Seif Sharif Hamad warned on March 20 that, “Zanzibar will likely experience violence in the near future after enjoying peace and tranquillity over the past five years.”
An election that was called, ostensibly, to clear up the situation has done the opposite and the future of Zanzibar’s Government of National Unity (GNU) is in doubt.
The illegitimacy of the government, besides its implications for governance and possible violence, could also affect the ability of Tanzania to attract donor aid, with some donors already suspending funds to the country because of the election.
People will watch closely how the Tanzanian government deals with the current crisis, as it may portend how the ruling CCM will move forward with constitutional reform in general.
The process of constitutional reform has been put on hold since April last year after protests over the CCM trying to impose its heavily-modified version of the one agreed to through nationwide consultations (the Warioba draft).
The Warioba draft the opposition is calling for would establish a tricameral system with Zanzibar and Tanganyika having their own legislative assemblies and a third chamber for the union. This would allow the Zanzibaris greater autonomy.
The controversy over constitutional reform galvanised opposition into the Ukawa coalition that contested elections in October 2015, and it is still uncertain how the process will move forward.
While President John Magufuli appears to be a man of action when it comes to fighting corruption and cutting wasteful spending, he is reportedly not as keen on constitutional reform.
The situation in Zanzibar may mean that the CCM will have to address the issue sooner rather than later.
With Magufuli’s popularity at a high, now would be the right time to act. Waiting will just lead to more pressure building up and with it the chance of real instability.