Elections in Tanzania, though, are made up of two sets of elections. In addition to voting for Tanzanian presidential and parliamentary offices, the semiautonomous archipelago Zanzibar has its own president, legislature and electoral body — the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC). While pre-election polls showed that CCM was likely to stay in power in Tanzania’s mainland, signs pointed to a potential opposition victory in Zanzibar.
Observers initially praised the elections as the smoothest in Zanzibar’s tumultuous history, but there was a sharp turn Wednesday morning. ZEC Chairman Jecha Salum Jecha unilaterally announced that Zanzibar’s elections would be annulled. The headline for this post draws from a statement by the Commonwealth observer team shortly after the results were annulled, pleading for a speedy resolution because “democracy, peace and unity in Zanzibar are at stake.” As rumors spread and tensions rise, this post sheds light on the events leading up to the announcement to annul Zanzibar’s election and the aftermath.
Delayed results, low trust in electoral commission undermine its credibility
Delays in reporting results have tarnished Zanzibar’s elections. Perennial Civic United Front (CUF) presidential candidate for Zanzibar Seif Sharrif Hamad blames ZEC for his election defeats, especially in 1995. In his account, ZEC informed him in 1995 that he was the winner but also told the incumbent Zanzibari president, Salmin Amour of the CCM. By the time the results were officially reported the following day, ZEC announced that Seif lost to CCM’s Amour by a 1 percent margin. (In his memoirs, Seif attributes the 1995 switch to interference by Amour and other CCM leaders in mainland Tanzania.) Elections were smooth in 2010 because of a reconciliation process, but tensions rose again over delayed results.
The root of these tensions is a lack of confidence in ZEC. Zanzibari citizens trust the electoral commission less than any other Zanzibari government institution or political party. When asked how much they trust ZEC, almost a third of respondents in an August 2013 survey in Zanzibar responded “not at all.” The opposition does not see ZEC as impartial.
Opposition declares victory, forcing the ruling party’s hand
By morning on Oct. 26, CUF had tallied polling station results collected from its party observers. By their count, CUF candidate Seif had won the Zanzibari presidency with 53 percent of the vote over incumbent and CCM candidate Ali Mohamed Shein (47 percent). They held a news conference to announce victory and to declare that they “would not concede defeat if robbed of [their] victory.” Why?
The opposition has learned from past elections. According to Seif’s memoirs, the “single biggest regret of [his] entire political career is that [CUF] did not prepare any plans” for how to respond to the election rigging they allege took place in 1995. Declaring their victory allowed them to shape citizen and observer perceptions of the elections while awaiting official results.
Making CUF’s unofficial results public also gives voters evidence with which to assess the credibility of ZEC figures. Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of many small islands and two large ones: Pemba and Unguja (the main island, often referred to as Zanzibar). ZEC tallied results first in Unguja, where the opposition is weaker. So when ZEC’s tallying exercises turned to Pemba — where the opposition won more than 80 percent of the presidential vote in 2010 — CUF’s preemptive declaration of victory constrained how much alleged manipulation could take place without the government completely compromising electoral integrity. The ZEC never announced tallies from Pemba before the elections were annulled.
How much should CUF’s unofficial counts be trusted? Before the ZEC annulled Zanzibar’s elections, it posted to its Web site the results from 31 constituencies. Comparing the ZEC official results with the CUF observer tallies, there were a few mismatches, but in most of these, the CUF actually underestimated their performance. (They overestimated three times, but in these cases, the margin was always less than 1 percent.) These results helped put domestic and international public opinion on the side of CUF if a standoff over results were to unfold.
CUF’s announcement triggered a rise in tensions, as crowds of CUF supporters took to the streets to celebrate their victory and to put pressure on the government to affirm this outcome. In Stone Town, police closed off a number of roads to limit the crowd’s spread. In the tension, citizens threw stones at police, and the police responded with tear gas, but the upheaval did not spread widely.
Meanwhile, the ZEC results center was increasingly tense, and the army joined local police there. Reporters and election observers said that they were kicked out of the tallying building but stuck at the center “for some time and telephone and internet services soon went mysteriously dead.” Because the army is a Tanzanian institution — not one under Zanzibar’s mandate — this can be viewed as a move by mainland Tanzania to control the Zanzibari elections.
The ruling party, CCM, began to criticize ZEC’s election management and CCM Deputy Secretary General Vuai Ali Vuai issued a public statement noting they “lack confidence in the Zanzibar Electoral Commission” and later criticized the international contractor hired to produce ballot papers for the election. The criticism is ironic, given CCM appoints ZEC’s key leadership.
ZEC commissioner annuls elections
On Oct. 28, Jecha, chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, declared the elections would be annulled and would be repeated 90 days later. In his address, he accused the other six electoral commissioners of being partisan and claimed widespread irregularities, including ballot stuffing and attempts to interfere with voting and incite violence. During the statement, Deputy Chairman of ZEC Abudlhakim Ali Issa — preparing to announce the remaining results from the counting center — was taken into custody by the police in front of international observers.
The legality of the annulment is complex, but it appears that the law does not support the annulment. Among other reasons, ZEC commissioners claim they were not consulted and that the annulment is politically motivated. Zanzibar’s constitution requires the chairman to reach consensus with the majority of electoral commissioners before making any official announcements regarding the elections.
The opposition coalition in which CUF is a member, UKAWA, has used the nullification of Zanzibari results to call for a recount of all ballots cast for Tanzania’s president. CUF in Zanzibar echoed this sentiment in a statement it released Oct. 30, asking: “How can the ZEC election be so defective that it is cancelled yet those same voters in the same polling stations are counted in the [National Electoral Commission] elections?”
Ruling party CCM has focused their criticism on fraud in Pemba (the CUF stronghold) and the decision of CUF to announce Seif’s victory, noting in its own statement that doing so violates election law and is punishable by a fine, five years in prison or both.
The immediate aftermath
Since the annulment, tensions have been rising in Zanzibar. Opposition supporters have taken to the streets there, and some youths have been arrested. Two improvised explosive devices were discovered Friday in a densely populated neighborhood in Stone Town (Michenzani) but were detonated by the police and did not result in any casualties. There are reports of additional explosions in Mkunazini, near the heart of Stone Town’s historical tourist attractions. Nine homes have been burned in the northern Ungujan town of Tumbatu. As of Oct. 31, CUF reports this number at 29 homes and one mosque burned, as well as severe injuries to 16 citizens.
The international community has uniformly spoken against the annulment. The East African Community “urge[d]” the political leadership of the United Republic of Tanzania to quickly address this situation for the sake of democracy and stability in the country.” The Tanzanian president’s ability to control this crisis, however, was constrained: After voting on Sunday, he traveled to South Africa on a diplomatic visit.
Southern African Development Community reaffirmed its view that the elections were “conducted in a generally peaceful and organized manner, according to the procedures outlined in the laws of the United Republic of Tanzania and the laws of Zanzibar.” The strongest statement came from the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, which reported being “gravely alarmed” by the commissioner’s announcement and called on the ZEC commissioner to reverse the statement because “the people of Zanzibar deserve that.”
What’s at stake?
Today marks a critical moment for Zanzibar, and its peace and stability is at stake.
The position of CUF in the short-run is clear: “Enough is enough.” They are the victors of the elections, they will not accept the annulment, and they will fight to defend their victory. On Oct. 30, Seif made it clear that CUF’s willingness to reach a peaceful solution has an expiration date of Nov. 1:
“Our people have been exceedingly disciplined and restrained and have heeded our repeated calls for calm because they believe that their leaders are working on finding a solution. … But if November 1st is reached without any meaningful movement towards concluding these elections and respecting the democratic will of the people of Zanzibar, my fellow CUF leaders and I will step back and leave this to the people to decide what to do.”
Resolution of the situation requires communication between opposing parties and CUF believes CCM is stalling any solutions. CUF says its requests to meet with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Zanzibari President Shein have been met with silence. Efforts by the international community to reach CCM for a solution have also failed. Kikwete denies this.
The results of these elections will shape more than who presides over government until 2020. CUF leaders in Zanzibar promised voters an archipelago with full legal statehood by restructuring the Tanzanian union. This has been the core position of CUF’s vision for Zanzibar’s economic future — as a free market trading hub, like Singapore or Mauritius — supported by tourism and offshore drilling.
These elections occur in the context of a delayed constitutional reform process that has made Zanzibar’s autonomy within Tanzania even more salient. The constitution that citizens will consider via a referendum strengthens Zanzibar’s mandate but falls short of what the majority of Zanzibaris prefer — a three government federal structure made of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibari governments with oversight by a weakened Union government.
The new constitution must win a majority of voters in both mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar to pass. If this election provides a picture of support for the opposition’s core campaign issue, then the political instability underlying Zanzibar’s elections will remain. Voting down Tanzania’s new constitution in Zanzibar would return Tanzania to a status quo constitution, a document that affords Zanzibar less autonomy and is no longer politically tenable. What party takes the statehouse and whether October’s elections reach a peaceful resolution will serve as a barometer of the willingness of political elites and citizens to participate in the constitutional process — and what they are willing to do for Zanzibari autonomy if the process fails.
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 and 2013. Follow him on Twitter at @keithweghorst.