Tanzania prepares for elections

Nation gears up for most competitive election in its history.

Tanzania is preparing for its presidential and parliamentary elections on 25 October, in what are expected to be the most tightly contested polls in the country’s history.

There are eight candidates in the presidential election but the race is between the two main contenders: John Magufuli of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, which has dominated politics since modern Tanzania was formed in 1964, and Edward Lowassa who defected from the CCM to lead the Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution (UKAWA), an umbrella group of four opposition parties, the largest of which is Chadema.

As polling day draws near, the ruling party faces a growing threat from the opposition which says it is confident of an historic win. Lowassa, from Arusha, is expected to do well in his native northern Tanzania where support for the opposition has always been strong, as well as with younger voters, helped by the fact that the country's colleges will be closed in the days around election time. His election campaign is built around reducing poverty, creating jobs, modernising infrastructure and battling corruption.

Magufuli is the minister of works in the present government and is from the Mwanza region near Lake Victoria, and has strong support from rural voters. He has promised to fight corruption by establishing a special court and has pledged to tackle unemployment and revive the country's economy.

Both leaders have condemned the recent spate of albino murders in Tanzania, with Magufuli describing the killings as a "national shame." The attacks on albinos, whose limbs are used for black magic purposes in some parts of Tanzania, come after the country banned witch doctors in January and sentenced several albino killers to death in March.

At the time Lowassa said that those convicted of murdering albinos should be hanged. Human rights groups say that the recent spike in killings may be connected to politicians seeking "lucky charms" but this has been dismissed by Magufuli as "utter nonsense."

Lowassa was prime minister from 2005-2008 under the outgoing president Jakaya Kikwete, who is standing down after serving the maximum two-term limit.

Magufuli’s selection as presidential candidate was seen as a surprise, and led to the equally unexpected defection of Lowassa to the opposition.

Magufuli's running mate is Samia Saluhu, a Zanzibar politician and the first female running mate in the CCM’s history. Lowassa's running mate is Juma Haji, a Zanzibar politician and former deputy chairman of the Civic United Front (CUF), from which he defected to join Lowassa.

The election observing mission of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has called on Tanzania's 24 million voters to leave the area around the polling booths immediately after voting, so as not to “disrupt the electoral process” on 25 October.

Photo. Chadema rally in Dodoma