Zanzibar: trouble in paradise with contentious election results
As the island off Tanzania heads for an election rerun the CCM and CUF parties are wary
Zanzibar: the chairman of Zanzibar Electoral Commission annulled the results of a general election in October. A new election takes place on Sunday March 20th
All is not what it seems in Zanzibar. Coconut trees sway in the breeze, kitesurfers parade up and down the eastern shore, and local beach boys mingle freely with western tourists into the small hours. Yet there is trouble in paradise.
Things have been tense in this semi-autonomous archipelago since October 28th, when the chairman of Zanzibar Electoral Commission annulled the results of a general election which had taken place three days before.
The results put the main opposition party, Civic United Front (CUF), on course to beat CCM which, along with its former incarnations, has held power in Zanzibar, and Tanzania as a whole, since independence in the early 1960s. CCM remains the longest-reigning ruling party in Africa.
The October ballots annulled in Zanzibar were nevertheless counted in the national election, where CCM (“the Party of the Revolution”) again won by a landslide. The ZEC has announced the rerun for this Sunday, March 20th. Opposition CUF leader Seif Sharif Hamad, the probable winner of October’s election, is urging a boycott of what he calls an illegal second election. He is under growing pressure from CCM leaders to recant in a fluid situation complicated by his recent illness.
On January 29th, the US and Canadian ambassadors, along with 15 European counterparts (including Ireland’s Fionnuala Gilsenan) issued a joint letter expressing deep concern at the annulment, and noting the positive assessments by international observers of the original October poll.
Until recent weeks, there remained lingering hopes that redress would come from Tanzanian president John Magufuli, recently elected on an anti-corruption ticket.
But after initially promising a negotiated solution, Magufuli has since endorsed the election rerun, which gives his party colleague, deeply unpopular Zanzibar president Ali Mohamed Shein, a second chance at keeping power.
More worryingly, Magufuli has also warned that, as commander-in-chief of the national armed forces, he stands ready to deal with any “troublemakers” among the islands’ 1.3 million people.
Opposition parties warn that Zanzibar is at risk of becoming “a colony of Tanganyika” – the state with which, after an extremely bloody socialist revolution, it united in 1964 to form Tanzania, a portmanteau of the two. “By threatening us with the military, he was saying that he is a colonial master who isn’t ready to let go of her colony,” Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, CUF deputy secretary-general, said recently.
A succession of opposition demonstrations have been banned by the police, while attempts to seek a judicial review have foundered. The CUF has called for calm among their supporters, despite widespread harassment.
Serious violence has marred three out of the last four elections in Zanzibar. In 2000, the police and military shot hundreds protesting against another apparently rigged election, killing at least 35 and initiating a campaign of violence which sent thousands into exile. Similar trouble followed the contested 2005 poll, which led to the CUF boycotting parliament. A compromise power-sharing government was brokered in 2010, leaving CCM in power, and CUF leader Seif as vice-president.
Though overwhelmingly Muslim, Zanzibar wears its Islam lightly, with bars dotting even Stone Town’s streets, albeit at rooftop level. Yet radical Islamist group Uamsho, who were blamed for attacking priests, churches and two British teenagers in 2012/13, remain politically active, albeit with much lower support than the liberal CUF.
Campaigning has been banned for the March 20th election but, across Zanzibar, the green and yellow hammer-and-sickle flags of the ruling CCM flutter in anticipation of another heavily disputed triumph.
Like his predecessors, Magufuli is said to be loath to allow a successful case study in a non-CCM government on the archipelago, just a few miles from Dar Es Salaam.
This month sees the 1916 Rising re-enacted in communities across Ireland. Another former British colony 5,000 miles away may see an updated version of the real thing.