REGIONAL REPORT

Tanzania polls won't be free and fair, warns election watch team

President Pombe Magufuli has been accused of repression against the opposition, civil society and the media.

In Summary

• On September 2, Human Rights Watch said Tanzanian authorities had stepped up repression ahead of the polls.

• Chadema offices were set ablaze in August according to its leader Tundu Lissu.

Supporters of Tanzania's President John Magufuli attend his Presidential campaign rally at the Tanganyika Parkers Grounds in Kawe in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on October 14, 2020
Supporters of Tanzania's President John Magufuli attend his Presidential campaign rally at the Tanganyika Parkers Grounds in Kawe in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on October 14, 2020
Image: REUTERS

Tanzania Elections Watch has cast doubt on the integrity of the polls set for October 28.

This emerged on Wednesday when the Tanzania Elections Watch Panel of Eminent Persons released its pre-polls report.

"We do not think the elections will be free and fair. It does not matter who wins, we need conditions for a free and fair election,” Fredrick Ssempebwa, co-chairman of TEW Panel of Eminent Persons, said in the virtual event.

TEW panel is an alternative independent oversight institution monitoring the electoral process. It was launched in September and is draws membership from the Kenya Human Rights Commission and civil societies from Tanzania and the East and Southern Africa region.

The members are former Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Uganda’s Constitutional Review Commission chair Ssempebwa, Maria Matembe, Chaloka Beyani, Alice Nderitu, Kenyan journalist David Makali, Dan Ogalo, Uganda High Court judge Lydia Mugambe, Frederick Jjuuko, Kenyan lawyer Betty Murungi, Alice Mugwe and Zein Abubakar.

Among the institutions indicted by the panel are the electoral commission and the police.

"The Electoral Commission should play its role and the police protect rather than violate the people and keep security during elections, not beat and torture them the way they're doing," Matembe said.

She appealed to the leadership of Tanzania to remember “the glorious role played by Tanzania in the liberation of the continent”.

Abubakar said authorities should improve the context of the polls, the counting and the aftermath.

Don Teya said when the civic space is closed, it provides fertile grounds for chaos.

"What we have seen in Tanzania is the misuse of the law to constrict the space for political and civic action,” Deya said.

In his first term, President Pombe Magufuli has been accused of repression against the opposition, civil society and the media. He has, however, scored highly in infrastructure development and the war on corruption, which were his key promises in 2015.

On September 2, Human Rights Watch said Tanzanian authorities had stepped up repression ahead of the polls.

“Since mid-June, the government has arrested at least 17 opposition party members and critics of the government, suspended a rights group and cancelled the license of another, and blocked other major rights groups from observing the upcoming elections.”

“The authorities have also imposed new restrictions on the media, revoking the license of a newspaper affiliated with an opposition member and restricting some news outlets because of their reporting on Covid-19, which President John Magufuli says no longer exists in the country,” the rights lobby said.

The government has, for instance, arrested and briefly detained opposition figures, notably the ACT-Wazalendo Party and Chadema, the main opposition party, on such grounds as “endangering the peace” or unlawful assembly.

Chadema offices were set ablaze in August according to its leader Tundu Lissu. He survived an attempted assassination in 2017, after which he fled to Kenya, later proceeding to Belgium.

In October, his campaign was suspended for a week after he was accused of making seditious statements during a rally.

Lissu on Thursday confirmed fears that the election will not be fair.

"That our elections will not be free, fair and credible is a foregone conclusion on the basis of any criteria for free, fair and credible elections. All the same, we’ll not let the regime get away with stealing the elections," Lissu said through a message.

Asked about the measures they have put in place to protect their vote, Lissu said they are putting poll watchers in all the over 80,000 polling stations across the country.

"We’ll ensure our polling agents are supplied with the election returns for their respective polling stations. We’ll do our numbers and if the results are in our favour we’ll make them public for the world to know," Lissu said.

He noted that Chadema has campaigned hard and the Tanzanian masses have responded massively to its platform of Freedom, Justice and People-centred Development.

On Thursday, US Ambassador to Tanzania Donald J Wright said calling for free and fair elections is not meddling in Tanzania’s politics.

“It is simply standing up for the aspiration shared by all people, Americans and Tanzanians alike: to have their voices heard, especially when choosing who will lead and represent them,” he said.

The EU on Thursday said reports of incidents and limitations in the run-up to the elections are of concern.

"Democracy thrives from freedom of expression and assembly, and a political environment that values citizen engagement, equal participation, impartiality of state institutions, and upholds human rights," EU said in a statement.

On October 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the US will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those who undermine democracy in an election in Africa.