The crystal ball: 10 reasons why Tanzania’s ruling party will retain power in Sunday's election

This is an election campaign in which the opposition tore up their trump card – a powerful narrative against corruption.

THIS month, Tanzanians go to the polls in what must be seen as the most eventful election since the reintroduction of multi-party democracy in 1995. There’s been great interest in this contest in a country of over 50 million, in part because some commentators believe that this time, the opposition has a chance to unseat one of Africa’s largest and best-organised political parties, the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or “Party of the Revolution”. Certainly, this is a riveting story: but it is just that - a story.

I have the benefit of being part of the CCM campaign team. Through relentless voter research and, for the first time, the use of internationally acclaimed campaign techniques, it’s possible to see things differently. Here are 10 reasons why we are certain John Pombe Magufuli, the CCM candidate, will be elected the next president of the United Republic of Tanzania.

1.   Edward Lowassa’s flawed candidacy

Having won every multi-party poll since the mid-1990s, the simple passage of time suggests that this was going to be tough election for CCM irrespective of who was the opposition’s presidential candidate. But the election was tilted in CCM’s favour the day the opposition anointed former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa as their candidate in August, without any internal vote. 

Proclaimed as popular and one of those most tipped to win the CCM nomination for President before he was defeated in the party’s internal election, this is as counterintuitive as it is true.

Opposition candidate Edward Lowassa solicits votes. (Photo/ FB)

It is easier for CCM to win against Lowassa than it would have been against Wilbrod Slaa, presidential flagbearer of the opposition at the last election, and likely candidate this time before he was pushed aside to make room for Lowassa. Slaa is universally respected for his honesty and oratory, and, because of this, occupies a moral high ground on many issues with credibility. Lowassa cannot take on this mantle. He is now running against the very establishment he helped create and was married to all his life until only two months ago. 

The CCM did not elect Lowassa as its presidential candidate because he could never be a candidate of change, because of his history. Indeed, had he stood for CCM he would personify everything voters have told us is wrong with a party that has long been in government.  There are those who believe that this is a tough election for CCM because Lowassa is the opposition nominee. We believe it could have been far tougher for us had he been our candidate.

2.   The opposition has ceded the anti-corruption agenda

The past 10 years have been eventful as far as the exposure and prosecution of corruption; media, civil society and parliament have pushed this agenda in response to public discourse. Outgoing president Jakaya Kikwete made history by ordering the government’s Controller and Auditor General’s reports publicly available and debated in the parliament. Yet during this same period Lowassa was forced to resign as prime minister because of a corruption scandal. It is clear the public has been awakened to the fact corruption, even at the very top, is not acceptable, and that there are consequences for those who indulge in it.

It means that Lowassa creates an insurmountable challenge for an opposition that, until his coronation, had made its name fighting corruption. Indeed, US Embassy cables exposed by Wikileaks went to the length of stating “Lowassa’s corrupt activities have been an open secret throughout Tanzania for many years”, egregious as they had become. The fact is such allegations were so publicly known that in 2007, at the height of opposition rallies against corruption, they publicised a “List of Shame”, with Lowassa topping the list.

So, far from this election becoming an opposition-led referendum on corruption – as it might have been had Lowassa been the CCM candidate – it has become a referendum on the past corruption of Lowassa and his suitability for public office. Once Lowassa was chosen as the opposition candidate, Slaa and Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba - key opposition figures since 1990s - resigned from leadership positions in disgust.

As a result, this is an election campaign in which the opposition tore up their trump card – a powerful narrative against corruption. So far has opinion travelled on this subject, they are now on the defensive. One opposition Member of Parliament, Peter Msigwa, in a TV debate, went so far as to say that, in courting Lowassa, the opposition had conducted research and discovered that “corruption is not an issue in this country”. Yet through once promoting their List of Shame the opposition had claimed publically they had such evidence. This is clearly very different voter research than that which we have conducted amongst 20,000 voters in the last month.

This is a crucial election for the opposition. Indeed, it has existential implications. Failure to make a credible showing in October may condemn them to also-rans for another decade. That is why it beggars belief that they have chosen to run away from the one issue that has so defined and elevated their cause, and that so energises and resonates with voters.

3.   Change you can’t believe in

Reading the words the opposition posters across the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam decrying “It’s time for change” is a very different experience from seeing the two main headliners at opposition rallies - former prime ministers Frederick Sumaye and Lowassa. Jointly, before August, they had been in CCM and in senior government positions for over 50 years. It is beyond comprehension for many voters to hear them rail against the establishment that they built, that shaped their political behaviour and that they were praising only two months ago.

July 2015: Edward Lowassa in CCM colours (Photo/ File)

To hear them claim the CCM has done nothing when they were leading members of the government for an entire generation is to hear them condemn their own leadership. A Damascene conversion to the opposition only two months ago cannot undo decades of history. Neither in form, nor style nor substance, can they represent change.

4. Conflict and confusion in the main opposition alliance (UKAWA)

In each of the last two election cycles the opposition has attempted to unify to unseat CCM, and each time, the unity crumbled. In advance of this election, last year they settled on a new common policy that might unite a group of regional parties – a draft constitution calling for 3-tier government. Then they chose to translate that unifying objective into an electoral unity through fielding a single presidential candidate and apportioned constituencies to each party in the coalition.

Then came the undoing: despite their umbrella coalition “UKAWA” having ‘democracy’ and ‘development’ in its name – they reneged on their formula of electing a single presidential candidate, and instead anointed Lowassa. Their belief was that Lowassa’s entry into UKAWA would prompt the leading figures in the CCM to also defect. Instead it caused the resignation of two prominent opposition leaders –Lipumba and Slaa. Other prominent opposition members of parliament have deserted to ACT-Wazalendo, a new opposition party that stayed out of the broad opposition coalition.  

Now UKAWA’s plans to field one parliamentary candidate for each constituency has crumbled. In one constituency, Masasi, Lowassa’s man had to be rescued from the stage as the crowd chanted that they would now vote CCM. In another constituency, Nzega, Lowassa had to call a voice vote where the crowd was asked who they would prefer between the two opposition candidates. Because of this chaos CCM is in play to win parliamentary seats against a divided opposition in the assembly elections also on General Election day that may otherwise have been out of their reach.

5. Lowassa’s helicopter campaigning

Lowassa has chosen to campaign by helicopter, holding large rallies in regional capitals, followed by a few local constituency visits. He then returns to Dar-es-Salaam. The reasoning behind this is uncertain, but it does not demonstrate a desire to truly meet voters face-to-face. Contrast this with the CCM candidate Magufuli who travels by car, reaching village after village, holding eight to twelve rallies each day (Editor’s note: CCM’s Magufuli also took to using helicopters in the later part of the election). This kind of interpersonal campaign is in keeping with Tanzania’s style: informal and open, and reaches into rural areas when the media from cities and towns does not.

It’s undeniable that Lowassa generates big crowds in the major cities. But the record for numbers at a rally is still held by Augustine Lyatonga Mrema, the opposition candidate in 1995 (who had also defected from CCM) who lost that election by over 30 percentage points.

6. All politics is local

In Tanzania, few organisations can rival CCM’s ability to mobilise citizens. While the opposition is seduced by the romance of the campaign, big rallies and newspaper headlines, CCM deploys its organisational prowess on the ground. Structurally and organisationally, CCM’s Women Wing alone has more registered members than Chadema, the leading opposition party. So CCM doesn’t travel to campaign: it is organised in every street and village, working away from the media spotlight.

CCM is the party of the ground campaign network and that is why last year, at a supposed low-ebb of popularity, CCM won the local elections resoundingly – by 80% - against the same opposition coalition it is facing at the moment. The difference lay not in what was happening in the press or social media or rallies, but in how CCM managed its campaign.

7. The unexpected Magufuli

When John Magufuli, the respected but low profile Minister for Works entered the race for the CCM Presidential nomination, few commentators expected him to win. No international analysts included him in their likely list of victorious candidates. When he stood, there was no great courting of the media or mass tweets from support groups on the Internet. Indeed, his campaign was reminiscent of another unknown candidate in 1995 – Benjamin William Mkapa – who both won the nomination and then the General Election where he faced a former Deputy Prime Minister who had defected from CCM in an election many expected CCM to lose. 

CCM candidate John Magufuli (Photo/ File)

Mkapa – just like Magufuli today – was both unexpected, fresh, and the face of change – and because of this, difficult to define or attack. Twenty years later, facing a well-known former prime minister who defected from CCM, history appears to be repeating itself.

8. CCM’s superior delivery in rural Tanzania

I am a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency with a sizeable electorate. In 2010 – in another election believed to be tough for CCM to win – the party carried my constituency by over 80%, and nationwide by 61%. Recent professional opinion polling conducted across the country projects, in my constituency, a vote for CCM of nearly 90%. While there is much that is unique about my riding, there are many others that share common demographics.

The opposition is primarily a movement of the cities in a country that is predominantly agrarian and rural, and likes to portray countryside voters as uneducated and ignorant.  But whether people have a university degree, or access to the Internet, everywhere they vote on the basis of their interests. Across the world all voters when in the silence of the polling booth consider which party can best answer the question “What’s in it for me?” This is not a selfish choice, but the reality of what it means to be enfranchised in a pluralistic democracy.

CCM is answering that question. In 2000, only four villages in my constituency had electricity. Today, 44 do. This may not be the connectivity of rural Europe or America but the facts on the ground show that more children are in school, there more teachers and nurses more dispensaries, telecom services and paved roads than at any time in Tanzania’s history. Rhetoric that nothing has happened and therefore voters should replace CCM rings hollow in rural Tanzania where the majority of voters live.  And when CCM candidates say they will do more, on the basis of progress that they have witnessed, people believe them.

9. The stump speech: it’s about both the style and the substance

Elections are not just about promises but also about how those promises are packaged and delivered, and the stump speech by candidates is always telling. Lowassa has take to his platforms promising whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. In one, he has gone so far to court votes in a particular region that he proposed to release Islamic fundamentalist terror suspects awaiting trial, accused of throwing acid in the faces of two British teenage aid workers. 

While Lowassa’s speeches are short, Magufuli’s are detailed, outlining an agenda on education, jobs, healthcare, corruption, water services, and infrastructure. On polling day, voters remember how the candidate appeared and sounded when they addressed them. Did the voter hear the speech of a politician, or a president? On this score, Magufuli would appear to be winning.

10. The numbers

Tanzania does not have a culture of election polling, of focus groups, or campaigns based on voter research.  But we do have a long established culture of seeking public opinion on major policy decisions – from the change to multi-party politics to constitutional reviews. In 2005, election polling took place for the first time, predicting a landslide for CCM. And indeed CCM got 80% of the vote. In 2010, a poll by Ipsos-Synovate suggested that CCM’s share of the vote would fall to 61%. CCM disputed the polling results, believing that that it was too low. The final election outcome: CCM won 61% of the vote.

In this context, two polls have been published by reputable and independent organisations – Twaweza and Ipsos-Synovate - both using different methodologies, but with same outcome: CCM winning over 62% of the vote.

This election, the CCM has also engaged its own pollsters, running focus groups and a mass field survey of over 20,000 respondents up and down the country, across every region and demographic group. Some may believe that it is for politicians to make their case to the voters without first hearing their opinions: such people believe leaders should just get on and lead. We believe the best leaders are those who first listen. That’s what we have done, and our campaign has been based solely on what we know the voters want, and what CCM believes, in the real world, it can promise to deliver.

It is healthy to argue against the nine reasons for CCM’s victory. But analytical research – with a significant lead for CCM – is difficult to argue against. Yes, polls do swing. Polls can be imprecise. Polls can be wrong. But – typically – this is argument is made by the losing party, against the facts.

January Makamba, MP, is Member of CCM’s National Executive Committee and CCM Campaign’s Official Spokesperson. This viewpoint does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Mail & Guardian Africa.

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