Pemba island is the stronghold of the opposition CUF party which won all the parliamentary and local government seats there in the 2005 elections. Now, with new local elections due later this year and a general election in 2010 the registration of voters has begun again in the island.
It was immediately beset with problems. The exclusion of voters from the list either because they did not have the necessary documents or because they were not in favour with the village officials (Sheha) or, as alleged during previous elections, the CCM party wished to limit the number of people voting for the opposition, soon resulted in outbreaks of violence.
Incidents widely reported in the Swahili press in July and August included the placing of TNT-type landmines, two of which exploded under bridges in North Pemba; an attack on a Sheha; placing of stones on roads to restrict the movement of police vans; and police firing into the air to disperse protesters. On August 5 police seized 20 landmines at Chake Chake. The next day two families of Sheha were reported to have escaped death when landmines exploded near their houses, destroying one of them. In another incident beehives were placed in registration centres to threaten registration officers.
Security services were strengthened and the press reported that reinforcements were arriving from the mainland
Voter registration suspended
Finally, on August 7 it was reported that the Electoral Commission, after two days of meetings, had failed to resolve inconveniences associated with voter registration in Pemba and that the registration process was suspended.
The Chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), Salim Kassim Ali, said the House of Representatives had made a mistake when it passed the law stating that voters must have a ZanID, when the Zanzibar constitution stipulated that anyone aged 18 or above with a birth certificate or voting card was eligible to vote.
The opposition CUF party protested constantly and alleged that the government was planning to ship thousands of voters from the mainland while some 175,000 Zanzibaris were being denied registration.
Then, in mid-August, foreign donors intervened. A press statement issued by the Embassy of Sweden on behalf of the EU countries and supported by the USA, Canada, Norway and Japan pointed out that the right to vote is one of the fundamental rights in democracy, and that all citizens should have the right to participate in the 2010 elections. The donors urged political parties to desist from any acts of violence and instead to use peaceful means to channel their complaints.
“Putting the record straight”
Foreign Minister Bernard Membe reminded foreign envoys of the Geneva Convention that forbids them from ‘meddling’ in internal matters. Minister of State in the Zanzibar Chief Minister’s Office, Hamza Hassan Juma, said that his office was surprised by the donor statement “Let me put the record straight” he said. “No one is being denied registration in Pemba, but there are people lacking legal standing to qualify for Zanzibar Residents’ Identity Cards. Some have failed to submit even birth certificates to justify their citizenship” – Habari Leo, Majira, Mwananchi, Nipashe…
As this issue of TA went to press it was reported that registration was likely to commence again and that a delegation from the EU was expected in Pemba.