Zanzibar votes again, but what next?

The results from Zanzibar’s election re-run on 20 March are a foregone conclusion. But what happens next is not. Here are 5 possibilities.

In Stone Town, Zanzibar. Credit: Jorge Cancela.

In Stone Town, Zanzibar. Credit: Jorge Cancela.

In the aftermath of Tanzania’s October 2015 elections, the respective fates of the mainland and the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar could not have been more different.

Dr John Magufuli secured a clear presidential victory, ensuring that Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) retained control of the State House in Dar es Salaam and Union parliament in Dodoma. His unprecedented campaign against waste and graft sparked a wave of “Maguphoria”. By contrast, in Zanzibar, a political crisis ensued and has dragged on for the past five months, with little sign of its resolution forthcoming.

On 28 October, three days after the vote, the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), Jecha Salim Jecha, unilaterally annulled results on the Isles, citing unspecified “irregularities”. These, he claimed, affected ballots for Zanzibar’s president, House of Representatives, and local councillors, but not votes cast at the same polling stations for the Union president and parliament. Jecha’s announcement plunged the Isles into a constitutional crisis, exacerbating long-standing political divisions.

When Jecha failed to provide any evidence of rigging, domestic and international election observers cried foul. The East African Community (EAC) criticised the absence of a legal means to appeal Jecha’s decision. And fearing the will of the people had been ignored, the USA’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) suspended a $472 million grant to Tanzania.

Meanwhile, an independent evaluation of parallel voter tabulation (PVT) conducted by the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) gave weight to claims that their party’s candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, had in fact defeated the incumbent, CCM’s Dr Ali Mohamed Shein.

Back to the ballot box

Five years earlier, CCM and CUF had formed a government of national unity (GNU) on the Isles. This lowered the stakes following a series of extremely close votes, many of which were conducted in a climate of intimidation. Zanzibaris enjoyed a brief respite from political violence.

In the aftermath of the 2015 election and its controversial annulment, CCM’s Shein and CUF’s Hamad, formerly colleagues in the GNU, held nine rounds of talks. Each man also met with President Magufuli to discuss a way forward, before Jecha again assumed his role of deus ex machina, announcing a fresh round of voting, scheduled for this Sunday, 20 March.

Amid questions over the legality of a re-run, CUF announced that they would boycott the polls. Several other smaller parties have followed suit, eager to disassociate themselves with an election in which no campaigning is permitted. Despite adequate notice, the ZEC has failed to amend the ballot papers to reflect their wishes. Such chicanery has raised further questions regarding Jecha’s credibility and the ZEC’s decision to waste time, money and goodwill on another round of voting.

Nicodemus Minde, a Tanzanian political analyst, told African Arguments that “with CUF’s decision to boycott, its supporters will not turn out to vote on 20 March. On the northern island of Pemba, a place where CUF enjoys massive support, few citizens will participate in the ballot. In line with their party’s stance, CUF supporters say they voted in a valid election on 25 October 2015.”

There is also the spectre of violence on the horizon. In January 2001, at least 35 activists died, 600 were injured, and 2,000 were displaced by the violent suppression of opposition protests. Now, in recent weeks, both CCM and CUF local party offices have been burnt to the ground, and bombs have sporadically exploded. Military vehicles have been sent from the mainland to patrol the Isles during the day, while the residents of Pemba have been subjected to a curfew.

“Zanzibaris feel under military occupation,” says Dr Maïlys Chauvin, a French academic with Sciences-Po Bordeaux. “On social media, they circulate photos and videos of armed vehicles and troop manoeuvres, and update each other on who has been injured by the state and its proxies.”

Meanwhile, Zanzibar’s economy has gone into free-fall since the October elections, with major shortages of foodstuffs and double-digit inflation (officially 12% last month on the Isles). Rumours of smuggling abound, and appear credible in the absence of a legitimate and accountable government.

Suleiman Shaaban Suleiman, a local businessman told African Arguments that “because Zanzibar imports 80% of consumable goods, recent instability has caused prices to skyrocket. Due to a shortage of potatoes, the cost of French fries has increased from 1,000 to 1,500 Tanzanian Shillings since October.”

Military vehicles arrive at Mkoani Port, Pemba.

Military vehicles arrive at Mkoani Port, Pemba.

Beyond the electoral charade

Given the opposition’s boycott and the absence of election observers, the outcome of this Sunday’s ballot is a foregone conclusion. CCM will win the Isles’ presidency and probably all the seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that, under orders from the CCM hierarchy, Jecha conjures up a result that empowers a hitherto irrelevant political force or declares CUF victories in Pemba in an attempt to legitimise the election and provide a pretext for inclusive government.

But assuming that no decision is made to cook the books, here are five plausible outcomes for Zanzibar after the re-run.

Scenario 1: Pariah status and economic pressure

All 54 parliamentary constituencies elect CCM candidates, who take their seats in Zanzibar’s House of Representatives. The legislature meets in April to approve the Isles’ budget, which is passed unanimously. In the absence of opposition scrutiny, the media picks up the mantle and highlights a shortfall of funds following the unscheduled expenditure of $3.4 million for the election re-run at a time when government revenues have declined due to rampant smuggling.

Tanzania’s development partners suspend disbursements to the Zanzibari government, citing concerns about democratic credibility and stability. The Bretton Woods institutions recall their response to a similar scenario in the Seychelles, where it became politically unpalatable to lend to a regime in which only one party was represented in parliament. The government’s current account deficit increases from $174 million to over $200 million.

President Magufuli re-doubles his campaign against graft and waste in a bid to balance Tanzania’s books. The Union government successfully tackles the first tranche of a dodgy $600 million bond and proceeds to address other dubious transactions. Meanwhile, CUF candidates awarded certificates confirming their election to the House of Representatives in the first ballot mount a legal challenge against the legality of the new parliament. The ousted legislators also demand compensation, adding to the Isles’ financial woes.

Scenario 2: Jaw-jaw not war-war

Dr Shein emerges from the elections with a renewed sense of legitimacy (however implausible) and with his ego sufficiently massaged by Zanzibar’s voters (or Jecha’s arithmetic). Eager to move beyond an impasse which risks defining his legacy, Shein launches a new round of talks with Hamad. The two men agree that neither of them will stand for the presidency in 2020 – Shein is constitutionally barred from doing so, while Hamad was recently hospitalised with fatigue – and resolve to look to the future. They agree to talks brokered by an independent mediator from the region.

Shein and his colleagues focus on securing their economic interests and guarantee safeguards that CUF will not pursue historical claims of human rights violations. Hamad sets his hopes on constitutional reform. Working with its allies from the opposition coalition, Ukawa, CUF calls for Zanzibar to be afforded greater autonomy, re-igniting historical debates about the genesis of the Union.

President Magufuli faces pressure from across the political spectrum to either re-launch constitutional reform, an issue he reportedly has little appetite to pursue, or endorse a resolution to the political deadlock in Zanzibar. He opts for the latter. Having secured the promise of a new basic law for the United Republic, Hamad re-joins the Isles’ GNU.

Scenario 3: Hamad’s surprise

Having exhausted all possible means to engineer a peaceful transition of power, and facing rising calls for action from his supporters, Hamad quits as CUF leader. In his letter of resignation, he expresses disappointment with the international community. Aware that he cannot call for the Isles’ withdrawal from the United Republic as a member of the party, Hamad quits CUF after two decades as its secretary-general.

His unexpected protest against the rules of the political game inspires his supporters to launch a campaign of civil disobedience. They demand an end to what they call the “military occupation” of Zanzibar. Hamad’s departure leaves the party’s decision-making body paralysed, unable to quell its erstwhile supporters or respond to government calls for talks.

Pressure grows for an internationally-mediated dialogue. As a precondition to talks, CUF insists on the withdrawal of armed forces from the streets of Zanzibar and the dissolution of the “Zombie” paramilitary units. This brings an end to the climate of intimidation, but a curfew continues. Talks stall over the feasibility of a third election, monitored by international observers, increasing pressure on Magufuli to lean on Shein.

Scenario 4: Chickens come home to roost

Despite Tanzania’s exceptional record of peace and stability, CCM’s unwillingness to concede defeat proves too much for radical Islamists on the Isles. The ruling party’s hyperbolic warnings about insecurity transform into reality.

Islamist groups such as Uamsho – whose leadership is incarcerated on the mainland – take advantage of the vacuum left by CUF’s apparent departure from the political scene. Resigned to protest, Imams aligned to Uamsho publicly challenge the mandate of Shein and his acolytes.

Disenchanted youth, unable to accept their continued political and economic marginalisation by a narrow clique, flock to the Islamist cause. Following an attack on Zanzibar’s government, the United Republic grapples to deal with an existential threat.

Scenario 5: None of the above

Reason prevails. CCM makes a U-turn, decides to accommodate its political opponents, and accept its (probable) defeat in October 2015, rather than make people traipse to polling stations for the second time in six months. This avoids the potentially grave consequences of Tanzania’s ruling party being implicated in dubious electoral practices, ostracising voters and enraging elements which could threaten peace and stability on the Isles.

Nick Branson is Senior Researcher at Africa Research Institute, but this article represents his personal views. Follow him on Twitter: @NHBranson.

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