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Despite COVID 19, Tanzania kicks off Presidential campaign as Magufuli faces largest list ever of candidates

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Tanzania officially entered its campaign season on 28 August, with President John Magufuli facing 14 challengers for the presidency.

President Magufuli

In a speech kicking off his election bid on Saturday, the 60-year-old incumbent promised to boost the country’s GDP, after the East African nation moved up the World Bank rankings in July, becoming a lower middle-income country.

READ MORE Tanzania has what it takes to be ‘African economic giant’

He also promised to boost tourism earnings, continue reviving the national carrier, and create jobs for eight million people.

  • The start of the 2020 campaign also marks the end of a four-year blanket ban on political activity. In June 2016, Magufuli’s administration banned political activities including rallies, and limited politicians to their respective constituencies.
  • Despite the COVID-19 crisis, or perhaps because of it, public gatherings have acquired a new meaning in the country, where President Magufuli declared the pandemic over because of prayers and fasting.
  • According to Tanzanian media, the only anti-pandemic measures at the CCM rally in the capital were temperature checks and hand sanitisers.

President Magufuli and the ruling party have also used his response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a campaign tool.

READ MORE COVID-19 is casting Magufuli in the worst light, in an election year

“We are now okay,” Magufuli told the crowd in Dodoma on 29 August, “Our children are going to school and coming back home safely. Sports activities are going on. Musicians are playing. All meetings are going on…including marriages.”

Formidable challengers to Magafuli

Among Magufuli’s most formidable challengers are main opposition parties’ candidates, Tundu Lissu and Bernard Membe. Lissu who returned to the country in July, told The Africa Report in August that he was confident about Chadema’s chances of unseating Magufuli.

Former foreign minister Bernard Membe, on the other hand, joined ACT-Wazalendo after his February expulsion from the ruling party was confirmed two months ago.

Just up until late August, it was expected that Lissu, Membe and NCCR Mageuzi’s Yeremia Maganja would form a coalition, but Membe told the Associated Press on 25 August that “there was no sufficient time for political parties to meet and make such decisions.”

‘Intentional ploy’ to divide vote

With more than a dozen candidates, the 2020 presidential candidates’ list is the largest in the country’s history. The main opposition parties have said that the crowded field is an intentional ploy by the ruling party to divide their vote for the October elections, and shore up its battered image.

Zitto Kabwe, the ACT-Wazalendo, called them “stooges planted by CCM to create the misleading impression that democracy is flourishing in Tanzania.”

The opposition parties are also dealing with the rejection of their candidates, with Chadema asking its candidates countrywide to hold protests and put pressure on the country’s electoral body.

Meanwhile, at least 18 of the ruling party’s candidates, including the current speaker of parliament and the incumbent Prime Minister, have already been declared elected after they were unopposed in their constituencies.

Bottom line

Re-election campaigns are a clear referendum for the incumbent. In this case, President Magufuli’s international brand rose due to his early anti-corruption measures and then sank as he cracked down on the opposition, human rights and free press. Despite that plunge, the opposition will still face an uphill task over the next two months.

Opposition leaders have rightly worried about whether the elections will be free and fair under the Magufuli administration, where many of their leaders have been harassed, arrested, and some even surviving assassination attempts.

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