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Zanzibar holds presidential elections despite opposition's boycott

Voting has taken place in Zanzibar's repeat presidential polls despite the opposition boycotting the ballot following a controversial decision to annul an October election. Security was tight during the poll.

Some 500,000 voters were eligible to cast ballots in presidential and legislative elections of Tanzania's semi-autonomous islands.

The security situation in Zanzibar has been tense

following the arrests of Civic United Front (CUF) activists and leaders. The authorities also banned public rallies to avoid conflict between rival parties.

The election rerun took place after the Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) annulled the results of the

first poll in October

on allegations of fraud. However, diplomats and election observers said they found no evidence of "massive fraud" as claimed by the ZEC chairman, Jecha Salim Jecha.

CUF leaders alleged the cancellation of the October vote was meant to prevent their leader Seif Sharif Hamad from forming government.

Sharif had declared himself the winner

before results were officially announced.

"We did all that we could to assure everyone that we are not taking part in the rerun," Twaha Taslima, the CUF's chairman, said in an interview prior to the vote. "They said it was not the legal way of withdrawing, therefore we are going with your names."

The CUF Deputy Secretary Nassor Mazrui told DW that he was grateful for opposition supporters partaking in a boycott of the election.

"We are happy that people have agreed to our call to boycott this illegal election and we commend them for showing the highest level of passion, peace and understanding. We will not accept any results from this election, but we will continue to fight for true democracy and the rule of law in our country," Mazrui said.

Hopeful for a win

The election commission said everything had been in place for Sunday's polls. "We have ballot papers ready. We have 1,583 polling stations, and polling officers with materials ready," Jecha said.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was hopeful for a victory for incumbent president Ali Mohamed Shein in the rerun. CCM Deputy General Secretary in Zanzibar Vuai Ali Vuai told DW after the closure of poll stations that everything had gone smoothly.

"We are very much hopeful that Zanzibaris will continue being calm till the official results are announced by the electoral body according to the laws," he said.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli backed the election rerun for Zanzibar despite the boycott and fears within the international community that a fresh poll could trigger violence. However, veteran journalist and political analyst Salim Said Said told Deutsche Welle that the lack of such uproar should not be taken as a positive indicator:

"One of the democratic barometers is the number of people taking part in elections. What happened today in Zanzibar was a very small number of people at the polling stations, where some electoral officers found themselves sleeping. This precisely means that a majority of people have boycotted the election," Said explained.

Tension unlikely to ease

Irrespective of the outcome, observers believe the election is unlikely to ease political tensions on the archipelago. The CCM is concerned that a CUF victory could lead to the collapse of the 52-year-old union with the mainland.

"The democratic future of Zanzibar is bleak," said senior CUF leader Nassor Ahmed Mazrui. "There are violations of human rights just because we oppose the fresh polls, but we will continue opposing them, even after the elections," he added.

Zanzibar Police Commissioner Mkadam Khamis told DW that everything remained under control with polls underway and no reports of any serious incidents.

"The situation is very, very peaceful and would like to thank all people for their cooperation and accepting our call not to stop others who want to vote," Khamis said.

Popular for its sandy beaches and tropical climate, Zanzibar has a history of contentious and at times violent elections.

shs/jlw (AFP, Reuters)

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