IT"s a busy Sunday for voters in Tanzania, Ivory Coast, and Republic of Congo.
Tanzanians are voting in presidential and general elections Sunday, in what is expected to be the tightest race in the history of East Africa’s most populous country.
Long lines of voters began gathering hours before dawn in the main city Dar es Salaam, with centres there opening on time at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and queues moving quickly.
Analysts say the presidential race will pit John Magufuli of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), seen as the narrow favourite, against ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, a CCM stalwart who recently defected to the opposition Chadema, heading a coalition of parties.
Both have spent the past two months flying by helicopter across the huge country wooing voters, holding colourful rallies with thousands of flag-waving supporters.
Analysts have warned that the unusually tight race could spark tensions, with the opposition providing the first credible challenge to the CCM since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1995.
Many believe 55-year old Magufuli—currently minister of works, for which he earned the nickname “The Bulldozer”—will face a tough challenge from Lowassa, 62. Lowassa was prime minister from 2005 until his resignation in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies and has spent years being one of the CCM’s strongest supporters, but on the campaign trail he has called for an end to the party’s rule.
“This regime has outlived its usefulness,” Lowassa said at his final rally late Saturday, repeating his calls to “kick CCM out of office, the regime that has failed the nation for all the 54 years it has been in office.”
Lowassa was one of the first to cast his vote in the remote centre at Ngarash, in the northern Arusha district.
Tensions in Zanzibar
Outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, who is not running having served his constitutional two-term limit, has ordered the police to boost security to ensure peaceful voting in the country of some 52 million people.
Kikwete, at a final rally for the CCM, made a rare direct attack on Lowassa—a long-time former colleague—who he called “corrupt and greedy”, and accused of seizing land illegally while lands minister.
Polls close as 4:00 pm (1300 GMT), and election officials say they expect the results of the presidential race within three days.
“If you lose, accept defeat,” former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who heads a team of Commonwealth election observers, said ahead of the vote.
As well as a presidential race, voters will also be casting ballots in parliamentary and local polls on Sunday, including on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, just off mainland Tanzania, which will also hold its own presidential elections.
In Zanzibar, campaigning has been largely peaceful, but residents have stockpiled food and water, fearful of possible unrest after the polls on islands, famed for their pristine white sand beaches and UNESCO-listed architecture.
“I am happy, as the mood of the voting seems good—and the exercise started on time,” said Rahma Ahmed, after voting on the Indian Ocean island. Leading candidates in the Zanzibar vote are incumbent president Ali Mohamed Shein of the ruling CCM, and current vice-president Seif Sharif Hamad from the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), who are currently sharing power in a unity government.
Ivory Coast decides
In West Africa Ivory Coast heads into presidential elections on Sunday with the incumbent Alassane Ouattara, campaigning on restoring stability, widely tipped for re-election.
A supporter of Ivory Coast President Ouattara attends a campaign rally on October 23, 2015 in Abidjan. (Photo?AFP).
But with the country desperately needing a peaceful and credible ballot, opposition figures are crying foul. Around 3,000 died in violence following the last elections in 2010, which pitted Ouattara against former strongman leader Laurent Gbagbo.
The former deputy head of the IMF was finally inaugurated president in 2011 after weeks of violence that followed then president Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat in the election.
The crisis was a bloody epilogue to a decade of upheaval, splitting west Africa’s economic powerhouse between a rebel-held north and a loyalist south.
A top economist, Ouattara, 73, is seeking a solid first-round win to dodge the threat of a run-off against one of six other presidential contenders.
Polling stations opened at 0700 GMT and close at 1700 GMT. Preliminary results are expected early in the week.
More than six million people are eligible to vote, but with memories of the violence sparked by the last election still fresh in many people’s minds, there are concerns turnout will be low.
“We’ll be far, very far from the 80 percent participation at the election in 2010,” one observer warned.
Ouattara has campaigned on turning around Ivory Coast’s economy and securing stability after years of turmoil.
“For the next five years, we will strengthen our institutions to consolidate peace,” said Ouattara, rounding off his campaign at a rally of thousands of supporters in the economic capital, Abidjan.
Ouattara’s main challenger Sunday will be former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who is running on behalf of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front.
Sassou Nguesso supporters rally. (Photo/AFP).
Former prime minister Charles Konan Banny dropped out of the running on Friday—becoming the third candidate to do so—citing “grave irregularities” in the organisation of the vote.
Former foreign minister Amara Essy had also withdrawn, along with former national assembly president Mamadou Koulibaly, who condemned the vote as “rigged”.
The government shrugged off their boycott as a bid to duck out of a competition they were tipped to lose.
But Ouattara has come under criticism from Amnesty International for the detention of opponents ahead of the vote, and rights campaigners have said little justice has been meted out to members of his camp over the 2010-11 violence.
In Yopougon, the working class pro-Gbagbo district of Abidjan known for its buzzing nightlife, there was deep gloom on Saturday, with many residents still seeing Gbagbo as the rightful winner of the 2010 vote.
“For us, October 25 is a day of mourning in Yopougon,” said hairdresser Daniel as he sat outside his salon, adding that he would not be voting on Sunday.
“Going to vote would be like violating the constitution myself,” he said.
“Tell me who to vote for while my parents are languishing in Ouattara’s prisons,” said a woman who gave her family name as Yaba, standing amongst steaming pots at her restaurant.
But in the staunchly pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Adobo, the mood was upbeat amongst voters cheering on their champion, known as “Ado” after his initials.
“Ado will build roads, he’s going to bring work for young people,” said 19-year-old Ousmane Ouattara, who lost his mother in the violence sparked by the last election.
President for life
More controversially, in Central Africa the Republic of Congo is holding a referendum Sunday to determine whether longtime President Denis Sassou Nguesso can seek a third term in office following deadly clashes in the oil-producing country.
The opposition called off protests on Friday, the last day of campaigning before the plebiscite, and the archbishop of the capital Brazzaville, Anatole Nilandou, appealed for talks on the crisis sparked by Sassou Nguesso’s bid to extend his rule.
On Tuesday, authorities said four people were killed in clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces in Brazzaville and the economic capital Pointe-Noire. But opposition leader Paul-Marie Mpouele claimed Friday that at least 20 people had died in the unrest and asked opposition supporters “to reject the referendum” but also to “avoid all violent acts”.
Also on Friday, security forces sealed off access to the home of another opposition leader Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, an AFP correspondent said.
Sassou Nguesso, 71, wants to amend the constitution in order to change two provisions that disqualify him for running for reelection in 2016. Under the current charter, the maximum age of presidential candidates is 70 and the maximum number of mandates a person can serve is two.
Sassou Nguesso, who has led the small central African country in different capacities for more than 30 years since the 1970s, has already served two consecutive seven-year terms.
The former Marxist soldier was president from 1979 to 1992, when Congo was a one-party state. He went into opposition in 1992 after losing multi-party elections but returned to power at the end of a brief but bloody civil war in 1997 in which his rebel forces ousted president Pascal Lissouba.
He was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, when he won nearly 79 percent of the votes. Half of his 12 rivals boycotted the most recent election.