Tension in Zanzibar ahead of elections | Africa | DW | 19.03.2016
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Tension in Zanzibar ahead of elections

On Sunday, the people of Zanzibar will head to the polls in a rerun of the presidential elections. There is heavy police and military presence on the island. The opposition CUF will not participate in the poll.

Things have been tense in Zanzibar since the annulment of the elections in October 2015. New presidential polls are scheduled to take place on Sunday, March 20, on Tanzania's semi-autonomous islands. Just days before the rerun, the situation seems to be volatile.

Earlier this week there were reports of arrests conducted by the police. The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) is asking the government of President John Pombe Magufuli to put a stop to the violation of human rights so as to maintain peace on the island.

Shortly before the election, a DW correspondent was abducted under mysterious circumstances. Human rights activists and journalists' organizations in Zanzibar have called for her immediate release.

CUF deputy director of Human Rights in Zanzibar, Pavu Juma Abdalla, told DW that the mood on the island was becoming worse. "People are being beaten up, they're being hurt, and there are party offices which are being attacked and destroyed," she said.

Humode Mohammed Haroub was one of the people arrested by the police. He said the citizens had been calm and it was the government forces that were attacking the people for no apparent reason.

Oppostion leader Seif Sharif Hamad

Opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad plans to boycott the elections

"When it gets dark at around 7:00 p.m., people are filled with fear because we don't know where we should run to. The government should be able to protect us. We are wondering why they should invade our privacy and arrest us for no good reason," he said.

"Most people, including me, say that they are not going to take part in Sunday's election. I don't know the intention of the government, but our leaders are encouraging us to stay at home on Sunday if we want peace," Haroub added.

Opposition to boycott election rerun

Zanzibar's election commission had annulled the vote for the island's presidential election (25.10.2015), citing "violations of electoral law." The annulment came after CUF candidate Seif Sharif Hamad declared himself the winner before the results were officially announced.

On January 28, 2016, the opposition CUF said it would not take part in the planned rerun of last year's elections.

Riziki Omar, CUF secretary-general in Wete, Pemba, said they had decided not to take part in the new elections because, according to him, they would be illegal: "There were results, representatives were chosen, members of parliament were chosen, and a president was elected." Omar said that the elections were over and the opposition did not see a need to go to the polls again.

"Unfortunately, the ruling government that held on to power is forcing people to go and vote. They are forcing our candidates onto the ballot papers, even after we made it clear to the commission that we will not participate, and our candidates will not participate," Omar added.

Ali Mohammed Shein Zanzibar

CCM presidential candidate Ali Mohammed Shein Zanzibar

Back to normal after the polls?

Tanzanian President John Magufuli backed the election rerun for Zanzibar despite an opposition boycott and fears by the international community that a fresh poll could trigger violence.

There are other presidential candidates from smaller parties participating in the elections, but elections in Zanzibar have always been a tight two-horse race between CUF and Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which has ruled mainland Tanzania for more than five decades.

Daudi Ismail, a CCM supporter, said he is optimistic about the election and is glad about the presence of the police, but he is worried about the period after that. "The police are keeping guard of the situation at night, but what will happen after the elections? How are people going to live, will they continue living harmoniously, helping out each other and participate in each other's events like weddings and funerals?"

Zanzibar President Ali Mohamed Shein of the long-ruling CCM remains in power until the polls are held.

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