You may have read my earlier post about the 2015 election season in Tanzania. In short, Tanzania had a historic election on October 25. Well, the ballots have been counted and the dust has settled. The winner is (cue drumroll)………
John Pombe Magufuli!!!!
Magufuli is the ruling party (CCM) candidate, who won with a 59% of the electorate. His challenger Edward Lowassa, who represented the opposition UKAWA coalition (led by the largest opposition party, Chadema), received 39% of the vote.
Was it a Fair and Transparent Election?
The elections themselves were always set to be a litmus test of democracy in Tanzania. Tanzania has been democratically ruled since independence from Britain in 1961, but under the same CCM party, which has been known for blurring the lines between democratic and authoritarian rule.
The European Union third-party commission on the elections concluded in a press conference that the elections were not “credible.” Prior to the actual voting, the commission concluded that the ruling CCM had used “the power of the incumbency to obliterate the opposition.”
“In the undertaking of the different stages of the electoral process, the NEC and ZEC (the electoral bodies) did not provide for full transparency regarding their decision making processes and stakeholders access to scrutinize the commission’s activities was not always granted.”
CCM also used national television stations, public spaces and other state-controlled entities during campaigns. The inauguration of major public works projects in the final several weeks of the campaign also gave the party an advantage over the opposition.
The European Commission did not comment on the transparency and legality of the voting process itself. Social media in the country has blown up with stories of stolen voter boxes and votes exceeding the number of registered voters in particular areas, but these concerns have not been recognized by any credible third parties.
What about in Zanzibar?
One of the bigger stories out of the election was the annulment of election results in Zanzibar. In short, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) decided that the results of the election were not credible, and would not count. Among the issues at hand, the number of votes in the final tally surpassed the number of registered voters—a clear sign of foul play. Additionally, some leaders arbitrarily declared themselves winners before final votes were counted.
Whether this announcement was a protection of democratic transparency or the opposite, is still foggy. Many critics argue that the head of the ZEC actually made the decision himself, while other members of the commission found the elections to be free and transparent. The obvious implication is that nullification of the vote is a protection from the actual results of the votes, which may have demonstrated a major overhaul in the island’s balance of power. The new elections will be held several months from now.
So what now?
Tanzania is a historically peaceful country. And yet, this election season was the most competitive in history. A traditionally apolitical group of people became captivated with politics, and particularly in the opposition party, Chadema. No other time in Tanzanian history has there been this much political awareness. And the results demonstrated this increase in activity. In the 2005 elections, for example, the CCM candidate won by 80% of the vote. In 2010, he won again by 62% to 27%. Now, in 2015, the opposition party earned nearly 40% of the vote, with CCM earning 59%. Not to mention, opposition parties gained a number of congressional seats.
The results and increased political fervor represent a growing youth population (half of registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 35) that is increasingly politically active and determined to have a voice. The challenge that they face now is maintaining this voice in non-electoral periods.
Among many opposition supporters, the win for CCM has been a major blow to what were likely unrealistic expectations about the results (there are still more CCM supporters in the country than opposition supporters). And many people feel resigned and defeated. Yet, a 54-year reign of power is not overthrown in a day without sustained political activism from its citizens. The coming years will tell whether the Chadema fervor in the 2015 elections was a passing fad, or the spark of an increasingly engaged and active citizenry that will inevitably cause political change.
While the opposition did not win in 2015, there is also reason to be optimistic about the new president Magufuli. A former minister of construction with a clean and effective political record, Magufuli campaigned against corruption and latency in his own party.
Since taking office last Friday, he has made several moves to make good on his campaign promises. For one, he got rid of the budget for foreign trips among government officials. Magufuli’s predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete, was notorious for traveling abroad. In his 10 years in office, he made 300 trips abroad—the equivalent to traveling once every 2 weeks. For a country with such a low national budget, traveling ministers (often to fancy second homes on different continents) on the government dime is questionable at the least. And Magufuli’s move has been met with appreciation from Tanzanians on all party lines.
In addition, Magufuli has been making surprise visits to government institutions around Dar es Salaam. A video went viral from his first day in office when he visited the National Budget office to find a room full of empty desks in the middle of the workday. In front of the cameras, he asked a cowering employee the names of each of these workers, and was told meekly by the poor man who was working that they had all gone for tea. Two days ago, he visited the national hospital and fired a major official with a poor work record.
His surprise visits to institutions to deal personally with stagnancy in government is certainly more symbolic than effective. Time will only tell whether these tactics will have lasting change on corrupt and dormant political institutions. In the meantime at the government-run Kariakoo Market, the place is looking a little cleaner, and we are all diligently going about our work…lest we get a visit from the president.