Most of the votes have been counted, and all in all it seems that the Tanzanian government has managed a passionately contested election with professionalism and wisdom. That is not to say it was a smooth process, nor an altogether transparent one. In addition to low-level disturbances across the country, the Zanzibari election was completely annulled and will have to be re-run within the next three months. Most suspect mere ruling party machinations for continued control here, but I’m not sure it is as simple as that. The annulment of the Zanzibari election may have been a favor to the opposition candidate, but it may not be seen that way by the Tanzanian people.
As a general rule, people believe that any delay in announcing final results is a sign of ruling party efforts to steal the election. The process in this election has actually been very hard to undermine. Polling totals are posted at polling stations as soon as the counters and the representatives of the different parties at each station approve the results. So various outlets have been posting polling station counts continuously since the night of the election. There are over 65,000 polling stations, and it would be difficult for any party to manipulate the vote at all of these stations, and a lot the counters and the party representatives are basically honest people. To have placed loyal party hack to steal the election at all these stations seems almost impossible to me.
But, police did arrest several hundred opposition party youth who were collecting and compiling polling station results; and there were various incidents of missing ballot boxes; suspect ballot boxes that were burned by opposition party members; dubious results announced at some voting stations; contested results elsewhere that may end up in the courts. With so much suspicion, and so much precedent for vote rigging, these sorts of incidents are inevitable, and it is likely that there was some vote rigging on behalf of both of the major parties. But, as I said before, I think the process was transparent enough, that I doubt that vote rigging was on such a scale as to swing the election to either candidate.
Here in Iringa for example, the polling station results were posted, and it quickly became evident that the opposition party candidate, who was the popular incumbent, was the winner. He was an opposition candidate in 2005 and lost, and promptly congratulated the ruling party candidate for her victory. He won in 2010 and many around town credit him and an opposition-dominated city council with overseeing continued improvement of infrastructure around town, a low crime rate, and a growing local economy. An active middle class of educated people and small businesspeople have been the electoral pressure behind this seemingly competent governance.
However, the final results for Iringa took a couple days until they were announced. On Monday, crowds gathered around the market place and post office near the district offices and city council to celebrate the initial results, and eventually military police dispersed the crowd with a loud concussion grenade fired over the crowd around midnight. Concussion grenades make a loud boom, and startle people, but do no other damage. They are mostly intended to give warning that greater force can be used if necessary. On Tuesday afternoon opposition party loyalists filled the streets again to await the announcement of official results, and were anxious that the delay was because of attempts by the ruling party candidate to manipulate the final results in his favor. Rumors were that he had spent a lot of his own money on the election, and had put his house in hock, and that there were big businessmen who had funded him encouraging him to fight for a victory even at the last minute. But the police did not disperse those crowds until ruling party loyalists showed up in a combative mood. At that point, seeking to avoid a confrontation, the police began dispersing the crowd. They closed off several streets, they may have fired off a couple tear gas canisters, and they began firing concussion grenades into the air. The crowd dispersed and the police calmly walked the crowds down the main street and got them to disperse. They made a few arrests but no injuries or deaths that I heard of. It seems that the military police, who are under national command, acted to maintain the peace. They did not attack either party, but arrested members of both parties as well as non-party observers who happened to be in the crowd. Within an hour of dispersing the crowds, the official results were announced and the opposition party incumbent was the winner, and his loyalists then paraded from the downtown area back to party headquarters cheering and singing.
It seems that the military police have been out in force across the country and have basically acted the same way in all the major cities. Most people are thankful that the election has been managed without violent street demonstrations. Opposition candidates seem to have increased their seats in the parliament, and consolidated control in several major cities. But the ruling party still won the majority of the seats and dominated the rural areas. So far the ruling party candidate is leading in polling station totals by 54% to 41%. So the main election seems to have gone smoothly and the result will mostly likely be accepted by most people. Some losing candidates (including some ruling party candidates, and probably the opposition presidential candidate) will probably contest the results in courts, but it is unlikely that courts will change results without clear evidence of wrongdoing.
The real wrench in the whole works is in Zanzibar, as to be expected. As one radio commentator noted, "in Zanzibar there are still people who revolted, and those who were overthrown." This remains a very divided population. The Zanzibari opposition is not the same opposition as the mainland opposition, even though they are both under the same umbrella party this year. Zanzibar was an independent sultanate in the 19th century, and then became a British colony in the 20th. In December of 1963 it became independent under a parliamentary system dominated by a party allied with the interests of the former sultanate and the Arab elite. In January 1964 that government was overthrown in a populist revolution that resulted in the killings of hundreds, if not thousands, of the former ruling class. A nationalist government soon took over and within a few months they signed a treaty to join Zanzibar to mainland Tanganyika in an awkward union that has lasted until today. Under the union there is a president of the United Republic of Tanzania, which is dominated by the much larger mainland; and then there is a separate president of Zanzibar who serves as one of two vice presidents to the union president. Zanzibar was ruled as a police state until the 1980s, and continues to be dominated by the ruling party despite a number of elections that were highly questionable. The main opposition in Zanzibar has been built on a call for human rights and more autonomy for the Zanzibar. So this year there was great expectation that the opposition candidate, who had run in all the recent elections in Zanzibar since 2000, would finally win.
On Monday, the opposition candidate for the Zanzibari presidency announced that based on polling station results, he seemed ready to win the election. The announcement didn’t technically break the law, since he was not announcing final results (which is illegal for private citizens), but only his sense of the polling results. But he did break the spirit of the law, which seeks to control the announcement of final results by reserving that right to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on the mainland, and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) on the islands. However, as more polling results rolled in, it looked as if the ruling party was winning the majority of the constituencies, and took a 57% to 41% lead. This led to ongoing demonstrations, businesses on the islands remained closed, and a couple people were shot by police. Polling results were dubious, as in a small place like Zanzibar it may have been possible for the dominant ruling party to arrange to stuff the ballot boxes in enough constituencies to swing the election. An announcement of a ruling party victory after the opposition announcement the day before would have brought demonstrations in the streets, and probably violence. Caught in this difficult position, the ZEC delayed the announcement for several hours and then finally announced that the Zanzibar election was being entirely annulled because of irregularities.
By law, the electoral commission can annul an election for irregularities and schedule a new election within 90 days. So that seems to be the situation now. Some have raised the possibility that the annulment of the Zanzibar results should lead to the annulment of mainland results. But the mainland electoral commission has assured that this is not the case, and the reality is that there are unlikely to be enough votes in Zanzibar to swing the national presidential election. So, most likely the national union president, who will probably be the ruling party candidate, will be installed as national president, even as the Zanzibari election awaits its re-run.
Most people assume that the reason for the annulment of the Zanzibar election was to ensure a ruling party victory, despite the announcement by the opposition party candidate on Monday. This is a reasonable assumption given the recent history of election irregularities and ruling party dominance in recent years. But, given the strength of polling results on behalf of the ruling party over the last few days, whether they were legitimate results or not, it seemed that the ruling party was waltzing in for another win in Zanzibar. Such a result would certainly have brought on demonstrations that would likely have led to violent clashes with police and party loyalists. So, if the ZEC has annulled the election, they have not necessarily done the ruling party a favor, at least in the immediate term. The ruling party will now have to steal another entire election, and to the extent that there are institutions ready to observe and ensure a fair election, they will no longer be distracted by the 65,000 mainland voting stations but only the stations in Zanzibar, which number less than 1,000. So a re-run of the election is just as likely to be even more transparent as it is to be an opportunity for a ruling party walk-over. The annulment does not mean an assured ruling party victory at all.
So did the ZEC just do the opposition candidate a favor? It seems to me that it has. And, given the circumstances, I have to admit it was a wise decision. Riots in the streets of Zanzibar would have done nobody any good. A well-administered re-run of the election actually gives the opposition candidate a better chance to win. In and of itself, annulling an election because you don’t like the results, even if the goal is to undermine the corrupt dominance of one party, still undermines expectations of legitimate process. But in this case, the state interest in seeing this erstwhile opposition candidate win, may outweigh their interest in stealing (perhaps even legitimately winning) the election. The opposition candidate is a decent, reasonable man, who has suffered the indignity of repeated losses to the ruling party, who has been willing to negotiate with the ruling party for a power-sharing government in order to reduce tensions and lead to slow reform. He is 71 years old, and it is unlikely that he’ll be able to run again in 2020 if he loses this year. There are many sensitive issues with Zanzibar, and this candidate has the strong backing of many in Zanzibar. The ruling party will not find a better negotiating partner, and whoever follows him will not have his sense of history, and is unlikely to be so reasonable. The ruling part would be wise to let him win. And, with their candidate assured a victory on the mainland, it is possible that they arranged the annulment the Zanzibar elections in order to stuff ballot boxes on behalf of the opposition candidate in the re-run…or at least allow him a reasonable chance at a clean victory.
If that is indeed the plan, then I have to admit that I’m impressed. This is a milestone election and a delicate situation. They would not want to upset it by proclaiming victory in Zanzibar at the cost of the total disillusion of the Zanzibari people. A complicated election this time around is preferable to riots in the streets that would only cause the ruling party to hunker down next time around, rather than allowing for a fairly competitive election as they did this time. If this election goes smoothly, even if not perfectly, it will assure that the next election is even more competitive and transparent. And the Zanzibari opposition candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, is likely to do more good than harm if he finally gets into power.
But, there is very little news coming out of Zanzibar tonight. One can only presume it is under lock-down, and hope that it has not turned into street fights.