By-elections for 36 seats in the National Assembly and the Zanzibar House of Representatives on May 18 gave some very clear indications as to the present strength of the two main political parties in Tanzania and what might happen in the next general elections due in 2005.

By winning comfortably in four by-elections on the mainland the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party indicated that it is still in command of the political scene. The opposition is still way behind in popular support. President Mkapa retains his popularity and many will be sorry to see him go when his second term ends in 2005. He cannot stand for a third term.

But in the Zanzibar island of Pemba the results were spectacular. Voters overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for Tanzania’s main opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF). The Commonwealth Observer team, whose predecessors in the general election in 2000 described that election as being ‘in many places a shambles …. a colossal contempt for ordinary Zanzibar people and their aspirations for democracy’ this time praised the elections as being credible in terms of transparency, electoral management and the overwhelming turnout of voters. 107,074 people registered to vote out of an estimated 140,000 eligible and in the elections themselves a remarkable 93% of those registered turned out to vote. The Commonwealth observers were full of praise for the newly reformed Zanzibar Electoral Commission and its conduct of the elections.

CUF won all 15 Zanzibar seats in the Union parliament and 11 out of the 17 seats in the House of Representatives. It should have won all of the latter as well. However, the CUF candidates were barred in six seats after the NCCR­Mageuzi, a relatively insignificant opposition party, cited a section of the Zanzibar constitution that bans any MP who has been dismissed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives (for failing to attend three consecutive sessions) from seeking re-election for three years. The six were among the 17 elected CUF MP’s who boycotted the House to protest against the alleged rigging of the 2000 general election. Most of the electorate in the six seats responded to the barring of the CUF candidates by spoiling their ballots rather than vote for CCM. In Chake Chake, for example, out of 5,910 votes cast, 4,385 were spoilt. NCCR got 183 votes. The six seats were however won by CCM but its best winner scored just 23% of the votes cast.

CUF Chairman Pro£ Ibrahim Lipumba commented: “If we want any evidence that CCM stole the 2000 elections the result in the Mkanganyeni constituency is it” (a view contested by CCM). This was a seat won by CCM’s Dr Ali Mohamed Shein in 2000, who later had to vacate the seat when he became Vice-President of Tanzania. This time the CUF candidate took the seat comfortably with 66% of the vote.

The elections marked an important development in the implementation of the “Muafaka”, an agreement signed between CUF and the CCM, after post­election protests turned violent in 2001 and led to the death of some 40 CUF supporters at the hands of the police.

Following these by-elections it seems that in 2005 CCM can look forward again to success on the mainland. But for it to win in the Isles, if the election is free and fair, will be something of a struggle. CUF needs to win only a few seats on the sister Zanzibar island of Unguja to win control of the Zanzibar House of Assembly and probably the presidency of Zanzibar as well.

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