According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), President John Magufuli was re-elected with 84% of the vote in the 28 October general election. His main rival, Tindu Lissu, won just 13%. Initial results of the parliamentary vote gave the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) an overwhelming majority, while leading opposition figures, including Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe and ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, lost long-held seats. This sets the scene for a potentially protracted post-election dispute, though large policy and military deployments suggest that the government intends to quash any fledgling protests quickly and heavy-handedly.
The worst fears about the conduct of the ballot appear to have materialized. Allegations of irregularities include ballot stuffing and denying party monitors access to polling stations, not to mention interference in opposition campaigns in the run-up to the elections. Perhaps as was to be expected in this climate, turnout was low at around 50%. The CCM’s overwhelming margin of victory – in the presidential ballots on the mainland and on Zanzibar, and likely in the parliamentary vote – seems to signal a return to an effective one-party system for the first time since 1992.
Western countries, including the US and the UK, have criticized the conduct of the vote, suggesting that relations with donor nations will further deteriorate during Magufuli’s second term. According to the US embassy, “irregularities and the overwhelming margins of victory raise serious doubts about the credibility of the results… as well as concerns about the government of Tanzania's commitment to democratic values.”
The margin of victory was also suspiciously large on semi-autonomous Zanzibar, where CCM candidate Hussein Mwinyi was declared the winner with 76% of the vote. His main rival Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, who has previously run as the candidate of the Civic United Front (CUF) and this year contested on the ACT-Wazalendo ticket, received 19% of votes, which constitutes his biggest defeat in the six Zanzibari presidential elections in which he has participated since 1995.
Ready to quash a post-election dispute
Opposition parties have rejected the results, setting the scene for a potentially protracted post-election dispute. Nevertheless, only the outcome of parliamentary vote, not the presidential ballot, can be fought legally, and street protests may fail to garner momentum amid a show of force from the security forces and prohibitions of demonstrations. A heavy security presence has been reported, particularly on Zanzibar, suggesting that any protests will meet a heavy-handed response. In a further attempt to nip any protest movement in the bud, Mbowe and two other Chadema leaders were reportedly arrested today, allegedly for planning violent protests.
As discussed previously, Magufuli had been under pressure to demonstrate that he could improve on the party’s 2015 election results, which represented a record low. If the NEC confirms the CCM’s overwhelming parliamentary majority, this will make it easier for Magufuli and close allies to amend the constitution to pave the way for a third term for the president. This will require Magufuli to maintain a tight grip on the ruling party, where internal opposition to his re-election bid may surface ahead of the 2025 elections. In the meantime, the president may well emerge emboldened from the 2020 polls, suggesting that a course correction of economic policy or governance remains unlikely.