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Tanzania votes in tight election race

25 October 2015, 09:14

Dar es Salaam - Tanzania votes in presidential and general elections Sunday, in what is expected to be the tightest race in the history of east Africa's most populous country.

Analysts say the presidential race is between John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), seen as the narrow favourite, and ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, a CCM stalwart who recently defected to the opposition Chadema, heading a coalition of parties.

Both have spent the past two months flying by helicopter across the huge country wooing voters, holding colourful rallies with thousands of flag-waving supporters.

Analysts have warned that the unusually tight race could spark tensions, with the opposition providing the first credible challenge to the CCM since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1995.

"I want to lead the country to development and good welfare," Magufuli said in one of his final campaign speeches. "Everyone deserves a better life irrespective of his or her political inclination."

Many believe 55-year old Magufuli - currently minister of works, for which he earned the nickname "The Bulldozer" - will face a tough challenge from Lowassa, 62.

Lowassa was prime minister from 2005 until his resignation in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies and has spent years being one of the CCM's strongest supporters, but on the campaign trail he has called for an end to the party's rule.

"Let us kick CCM out of office, the regime that has failed the nation for all the 54 years it has been in office," Lowassa said at a recent rally.

Tensions in Zanzibar

Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, who is not running having served his constitutional two-term limit, has ordered the police to boost security to ensure peaceful voting in the country of some 52 million people.

"This is going to be the toughest, but most exciting election in the country's history," said veteran politician Pius Msekwa, a former CCM party vice-chairperson, and vice chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam.

Polls open at 07:00, and close as 14:00.

"If you lose, accept defeat," former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who heads a team of Commonwealth election observers, said ahead of the vote.

As well as a presidential race, voters will also be casting ballots in parliamentary and local polls on Sunday, including on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, which will also hold its own presidential elections.

Both Magufuli and Lowassa have made repeated calls for the preservation of peace and national unity in speeches denouncing tribalism, religious violence and corruption.

On Zanzibar, campaigning has been largely peaceful, but residents have stockpiled food and water, fearful of possible unrest after the polls on the Indian Ocean islands, famed for their pristine white sand beaches and UNESCO-listed architecture.

Leading candidates in the Zanzibar vote are incumbent president Ali Mohamed Shein of the ruling CCM, and current vice-president Seif Sharif Hamad from the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), who are currently sharing power in a unity government.

Presidential results are expected later in the week, although on Zanzibar, the electoral commission there say the islands' presidential results should be announced on Monday.



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