“These conditions have really made the situation difficult,” Oriem Nayko, a Tanzanian expert for Human Rights Watch, said the election could not be “as free and fair as it should be.”
Speaking to The Washington Post from Arusha Airport, Lisu accused the government of rigging the vote by lining up the electorate with members of the ruling party. He warned of mass protests if the result was perceived as unfair and security forces continued to crack down on the opposition.
In this case, “we will not give in to the election, and this time we said it would be decided by the masses in the streets,”
Such a threat of instability is unheard of in one of the most peaceful democracies in Africa, where the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi has been in power for some form since independence in 1961 under the leadership of Father Julius Nyerere. Today, Tanzania boasts investors of economic growth of more than 6 percent a year, which has raised it to middle-income status.
But violence has already erupted and an atmosphere of fear is gripping Tanzania. The latest outbreak killed at least three people, including a mother of six and injured dozens Monday, when security forces fired tear gas and bullets at crowds in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, according to human rights activist Tabit Juma. Some news reports later said that nine people were killed in the shooting.
Meanwhile, some scholars, journalists and human rights officials did not want their names to appear in the news.
The government has rejected criticism of intimidation and human rights abuses. A government spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Through the campaign, Magufuli advertised his government’s mega-infrastructure investment projects to build roads, ports and power plants as a reason for voters to give him a second five-year term. Supporters call it a “bulldozer” for policy-making.
The main opposition parties have united behind Lisu, the candidate for the Chadema party, who is popular with young voters, frustrated by the lack of opportunities and nurtured by his message of “freedom, justice and people-oriented development”.
Lisu returned from exile in Belgium this year after an assassination attempt in 2017, in which he was shot 16 times. In June, another opposition leader in Chadema, Freeman Mboue, was attacked by unknown assailants after he accused the government of covering up a coronavirus outbreak in Tanzania. Magufuli fired senior state health officials and stopped public reporting on coronavirus cases in April, saying the virus was defeated through prayer.
A Oct. 12 report by Amnesty International accused Magufuli of becoming an autocratic ruler since his election in 2015 and using “the law to systematically and deliberately limit human inalienable human rights.”
The government’s actions were a worrying and unhealthy sign for a country that is positioned for greater growth and development, said Deproze Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and South Africa, at the presentation of the report.
Large foreign donors are increasingly concerned about the government’s growing attacks on human rights in recent years.
In November 2018, the World Bank froze $ 1.7 billion in loans to Tanzania over a policy banning pregnant students from public schools and a law that makes it illegal to challenge official statistics, while Denmark, the country’s second-largest donor, withheld $ 10 million in assistance for reported homophobic comments by an official. The World Bank resumed lending in September 2019.
On Friday, US Ambassador to Tanzania Donald J. Wright expressed concern about reports of government security agents disrupting the opposition campaign, but said there was still time to restore confidence in the election by allowing independent observers and ensuring greater voting transparency.
Lisu’s conditions for accepting election results include observation of opposition voting, with the results recorded and given to opposition agents and election return officials declaring the result, along with the cessation of violence against opposition election activities by security forces.
According to Tanzania’s electoral government, more than 29 million people have registered to vote. Magufuli won the 2015 election with 58 per cent of the vote, while opposition candidate Eduard Lousasa won 40 per cent. Lisu claims that the opposition poll shows that the majority of voters support him this time.
“I suspect that President Magufuli is worried about the political gains of the opposition and has therefore taken the steps to close the political space,” said Bronwyn Bruton, director of programs and research at the Atlantic Council’s African Center in Washington. “This is not something a confident leader does.”
She said it was too early to say whether the election was free and fair, but warned that the damage could already have been done.
“My number one concern so far is the lack of a level playing field, so it looks like there may be some manipulation of the actual election results or an attempt to suppress the votes of opposition supporters,” Bruton said.
As governments around the world deal with the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, she said the international community could only be ready to act if violence broke out.
“People just don’t see Tanzania as a retreating, failing democracy,” Bruton said.
Uroton reports from Cape Town, South Africa.