A bajaji driver waits in traffic next to election posters in Dar es Salaam on Oct. 20. (Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images)

Kim Yi Dionne: Continuing our series of Monkey Cage Election Reports, we are pleased to present the following pre-election report on the Oct. 25 election in Tanzania from Keith Weghorst and Sterling Roop.

On Sunday, Tanzanians will head to the polls for the country’s fifth multiparty elections. Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, in English: Party of the Revolution) is Africa’s longest ruling party and through its 50 plus years in power has engineered transitions from single-party rule to multiparty competition; from a collapsing socialist economy to sustained growth under capitalism; and from “Donor Darling” status to having endemic corruption. CCM has never been more vulnerable as it faces a unified opposition front backing a popular candidate. In this post, we highlight six important things to know about the upcoming elections in this East African nation.

1. Tanzania’s elections are actually two sets of elections

Tanzania is a union made up of Tanganyika, a former British and German colony, and Zanzibar, an archipelago that gained independence first from Britain ending its protectorate status in December 1963, followed by the overthrow of the Omani sultan in January 1964. Zanzibar has maintained some autonomy and, in addition to voting on the Tanzanian president and parliament, it also elects its own president and legislature, the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Zanzibar’s push for further autonomy has dominated contemporary politics in both parts of the union (more on this later) and represents a major political fault line between the ruling party and the opposition. CCM has held a super-majority in the Tanzanian parliament and a majority in Zanzibar since the 1995 multiparty elections. The distributions of seats in the two legislatures from 1995-2015, however, shows that CCM is not as dominant in Zanzibar as it is in mainland Tanzania.


Source: National Electoral Commission of Tanzania and Zanzibar
Electoral Commission (Keith Weghorst and Sterling Roop/The Monkey Cage)

2. The opposition is unified

Candidates must be nominated by an officially registered political party to be on the ballot in Tanzania. This makes coordination between opposition parties difficult and means that in past elections, constituencies often had more than one opposition candidate challenging the ruling party. Splitting the opposition vote between multiple challenger parties made beating the ruling party harder than it would have been if opposition supporters could rally behind a single candidate.

These elections, however, are different. Tanzania’s major opposition parties – Chama Cha Demokrasia Na Maendeleo (CHADEMA, in English: Party of Democracy and Development), the Civic United Front (CUF), National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR), and National League for Democracy (NLD) — are running as Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (UKAWA, in English: Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution). This loose coalition of parties agreed to collectively nominate only one presidential candidate. There is also only one UKAWA candidate running in each of Tanzania’s 265 parliamentary constituencies. This ensures the opposition vote will be unified and not split between several opposition candidates, as it had often been in the past. The majority of UKAWA nominees come from CHADEMA (about 55% of UKAWA’s candidates), followed by CUF (39%), NCCR (4%), and NLD (1%).

UKAWA’s momentum arose from Tanzania’s constitutional reform process, in which the opposition boycotted the ruling party’s attempt to pass a constitution that favored themselves—one that does not represent the preferences of the majority of Tanzanians. Their attempts to block the proceedings were ultimately unsuccessful but the constitutional assembly process allowed opposition parties to build trust in one another and demonstrate the credibility of commitments to coordinate.

3. Ruling party leadership has changed

President Jakaya Kikwete is completing his second term in office and stepping down. 38 hopefuls sought CCM’s nomination in July and John Pombe Magufuli was chosen by the party’s secretariat. While some events surrounding the nomination seemed commonplace, like arrests of individuals with cash-filled suitcases, the nomination outcome shocked many. The party spurned long-standing senior members — such as Fredrick Sumaye, Steven Wasira and William Ngeleja — and the new party’s new generation in January Makambe and Bernard Membe. The party’s decision to pass up a widely popular candidate, former prime minister Edward Lowassa, marked the party’s aim to appoint someone untouched by corruption scandals. As some observers predicted, this weakened CCM in the short-run as defections to the opposition ensued, despite CCM claim’s that defections actually strengthened them.

4. The opposition is gambling on a ruling party defector

Within days of CCM’s presidential candidate selection, Lowassa defected to the opposition, joining the CHADEMA party. Opposition parties gambled that their popularity — they together won almost 40 percent of the presidential vote in 2010 — combined with the ballots of Lowassa loyalists would be enough to deliver victory. The UKAWA coalition designated Lowassa as their presidential candidate a week after his defection from CCM.


Supporters of opposition presidential candidate and former prime minister Edward Lowassa, who heads the four main opposition parties, attend their closing campaign rally on Saturday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Khalfan Said/AP)

This strategy is risky. The opposition’s campaign messages about political change and rooting out corruption contrast with Lowassa, who is emblematic of corruption and systematic rot within the government. Lowassa once topped CHADEMA’s “List of Shame” for corruption, including the “Richmond Scandal” that prompted him to resign as Prime Minister in 2008. UKAWA has publicly defended their candidate but tensions over his selection threaten the UKAWA unity. Both CHADEMA flag-bearer Wilbrod Slaa and CUF head Ibrahim Lipumba stepped down from leadership positions in their respective parties after Lowassa’s nomination.

Whether or not this gamble will pay off remains in doubt. Public opinion polls carried out by the independent, nonpartisan organization Twaweza in mainland Tanzania in 2013 and 2014 indicated that around half of Tanzanians were likely to vote for the ruling party. A survey carried out last month indicated that the tide has shifted: about two thirds of respondents reported that they would vote for CCM’s presidential candidate (see a comparison over time here).

5. There are a lot of new candidates running in legislative races

While all Tanzanian voters are familiar with the party in power and its brand, the faces of the legislative candidates on its ballots are fresh. I (Weghorst) show in my dissertation that because of CCM dominance in general elections, competition is most fierce in nomination contests to become the CCM candidate. CCM candidate hopefuls face a number of high-quality opponents. CCM incumbent legislators and party elites are not spared from this competition—5 current cabinet ministers failed reelection bids at the nomination stage.

I traced the political trajectories of 323 parliamentarians who later left office. While most incumbent legislators from the opposition lose reelections on polling day or choose to step down, over half of the turnover for CCM’s legislators occurs when an incumbent loses office after failing to secure renomination in the party’s primary election. The high rates of competition within the CCM are a holdover from Tanzania’s period of single-party rule. It allows CCM partisans to “throw the bums out” at the nomination stage, without suffering the electoral consequences of poor performance in office.


Figure shows political trajectories of 323 Tanzanian
Parliament members who were first elected in 1995,
2000, or 2005 and have since left office. (Keith Weghorst/The Monkey Cage)

6. Tanzanian union and Zanzibari autonomy are critical to election

Zanzibar has historically been the center of electoral violence in Tanzania. For example, after the 2000 elections, security services shot and killed at least 35 people, injuring hundreds, and causing thousands to flee to Kenya. Zanzibar’s “Maridhiano” reconciliation process initiated in 2009 established a power-sharing government between CCM and CUF, the latter of which has been relatively successful in winning support in Zanzibar. The power-sharing arrangement shifted political discontent outward to Zanzibar’s autonomy in the Tanzanian union.


Electoral Commission workers tally votes in Zanzibar, 2010. (Keith Weghorst/The Monkey Cage)

At the same time, Tanzania convened a nationwide constitutional reform process that was widely participatory. The resulting draft constitution — which was supposed to go to referendum in April 2014 — promised to reform the federal structure of Tanzania into three governments — equally autonomous Tanganyikan and Zanzibari governments held together by a substantially weakened Union government. Although the majority of Tanzanians supported this draft, the ruling party ultimately modified the draft to maintain the status quo federal structure and has delayed the constitutional referendum until after the elections.

This may be the single-most important policy difference between the CCM and the opposition party CUF, whose Zanzibari wing has campaigned on the promise of making Zanzibar fully sovereign and autonomous. With the future of Zanzibar’s place in the United Republic symbolically (and possibly truly) at stake in these elections, and CUF perennial candidate Maalim Seif standing for president for what could be his last time, this year’s campaigns have seen intimidation by youth groups and security services, similar to Zanzibari’s “old style” of contentious politics. The rhetoric of CCM and CUF has become increasingly provocative. CCM leaders have stated the only way they would exit power is through a bloody revolution, like the one that brought them to power in 1964.   CUF have declared that they will win the election, will not longer accept defeat due to ‘rigged outcomes’ and would take to the streets if they lose.

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Keith Weghorst is a post-doctoral fellow in the political science department at Vanderbilt University and was a Fulbright-Hays Fellow in Tanzania in 2012-2013. Follow him on Twitter at @keithweghorst.

Sterling Roop is a senior adviser at International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) based in Oslo, Norway. He previously ran ILPI’s country office in Tanzania from 2009-2014. Follow him on Twitter at @sterlingroop.