Tanzanians go to the polls on Wednesday. President John Magufuli is expected to be re-elected, despite fierce opposition from opposition leader Tundu Lissu and accusations from rights groups, which accuse the outgoing president of suppressing individual freedoms and dissent.
Mr. Magufuli, 60, is the candidate of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party (CCM, power). He took office in November 2015 and wishes to be re-elected for five years due to his economic record. Former minister of public works, he praises his infrastructure projects and the success of his administration in increasing the country’s gross domestic product.
A total of 15 candidates are vying for the presidency, but the main challenger is Tindu Lissu of the Party for Democracy and Progress party, better known as Chadema. Mr Lissu, 52, returned home in July after spending three years in Belgium, where he was recovering from an assassination attempt in Tanzania in 2017.
Voters will also choose lawmakers – 264 in the National Assembly of Tanzania and 50 in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar – as well as thousands of city councilors.
Freedoms, COVID-19 and development
Critics of President Magufuli’s administration accuse him of reducing individual freedoms, cornering opponents, the press and civil society.
In early October, Mr. Lissu’s campaign was suspended for a week by the National Election Commission for allegedly using seditious language and committing other violations. The Chadema party called the accusations unfair, but complied with the suspension order.
Since the campaign began in late August, Tanzanians have participated in huge political rallies without masks or physical distancing. In early May, the government stopped releasing daily updates on the progress of the pandemic. At the time, the country had already recorded 509 confirmed cases and 21 deaths.
In June, fervent Catholic President Magufuli said Tanzania had defeated the coronavirus thanks to prayer.
In an interview with VOA, Mr Lissu hinted that he thinks the virus is still there, but added that “life goes on”.
With its 60 million inhabitants, Tanzania is the second largest economy in East Africa after Kenya. Its growth over the past decade has continued under Mr. Magufuli, with gross national income per capita reaching $ 1,080 last year – enough to elevate Tanzania to a middle-income country. according to the scale of the World Bank.
But, due to a high birth rate, the real number of poor has risen to 14 million today – and many more live dangerously close to the poverty line, the World Bank noted.
Mr. Lissu argued during his campaign that the standard of living of most Tanzanians has not improved. He says he would invest in human potential, mainly by improving education and health systems, as well as infrastructure.
Mr Lissu also says he intends to fight corruption and reform criminal justice and land distribution systems.
For his part, Mr. Magufuli has positioned himself as a champion in the fight against corruption. “I hate thieves”, he said when he took office. “They are the ones who made this nation a poor country”, he added.
Since its independence in 1961, Tanzania has been a haven of peace. The country has sheltered refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and other neighboring countries – and has served as the main peace mediator during times of unrest. Tanzania is a major player in the region, a founding member of the bloc of six countries of the East African Community.
Tanzanian National Election Commission chief electoral officer Charles Wilson told VOA the vote will be transparent and credible.
This article is from the Swahili service of the VOA. Translated and adapted by VOA Africa.