This week Tanzania will have a new leader; Ivory Coast to return an old one. And Congo's will add to his 30 years

Whichever way it turns out, with Kikwete stepping down after two terms, Tanzania will have a different man at the top.

TANZANIANS voted Sunday for a successor to President Jakaya Kikwete as fears grow that the outcome of the closest election in a half-century in Africa’s third-biggest gold producer may trigger unrest.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party’s John Magufuli and former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who defected to the opposition in July, are front-runners in what analysts have called the tightest contest since the nation gained independence from Britain in 1961.

One September poll showed Lowassa winning, an unprecedented prospect in a country where the CCM has swept every election.

Supporters of the opposition party Chadema take a rest after a campaign rally in Dar es Salaam on October 24, 2015. (Photo/AFP).

Polling stations started closing across the East African nation at 4 p.m. for voting in presidential and parliamentary elections. Results are due within 72 hours after balloting ends, according to the National Electoral Commission, or NEC. The nation has 23.3 million eligible voters.

“The real risk and potential for political unrest will be when the NEC announces the result,” Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst at Teneo Intelligence, said in an e-mailed note. The opposition Chadema party has said it won’t concede defeat if there’s evidence of vote-rigging.

Unprecedented pressure

Tanzania’s $49 billion, mostly agrarian economy, grew more than 7 percent in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund. It’s seeking to diversify into gas production, with an estimated 55 trillion cubic feet of reserves that are the biggest in East Africa after Mozambique.

Kikwete is stepping down after his two-term rule comes to a mandatory end, having overseen a period of relative stability. That means that either way, it will be a new man at the top in Tanzania when the counting is done.

“The NEC is under unprecedented pressure as the entity’s independence and transparency has been put into question,” Salim said. “Any scenario where glitches or delays occur will see the opposition immediately contest the results.”

Two September polls showed Magufuli, 55, backed by more than 60% of those surveyed, while another found support for Lowassa from just over half of those questioned.

Lowassa has built momentum with mass rallies, while Magufuli—nicknamed the Bulldozer because of the zeal he showed in his post as works minister—projects the image of a hard-working man seeking to revitalise a ruling party that’s been dogged by graft allegations.

CCM Secretary-General Abdulrahman Kinana described Magufuli as “down to earth” and a results-oriented civil servant who won’t hesitate to fire non-performers.

Lowassa, 62, served as prime minister from 2005 until 2008, when he resigned after being implicated in another corruption scandal. He denied the allegations, describing them as politically motivated. While there’s little difference in key policies between Lowassa and Magufuli, the ex-premier may benefit from discontent with the CCM as well as a wave of enthusiasm for his candidacy that’s been stoked by social media.

While mainland Tanzania has a history of peaceful voting, in contrast with neighbouring Kenya, where post-election violence in 2007-08 left at least 1,100 people dead, the results of previous votes were always a “foregone conclusion,” Chris McKeon, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Now with both sides believing they will win, “levels of frustration among defeated parties are likely to be much higher than in previous years,” McKeon said. “Accusations of vote- rigging or other electoral malpractice could result in violence, especially if such accusations are made by party leaders.”

Outtara eyes win

Unlike in Tanzania where there the outcome is not certain, in Ivory Coast, which is holding a presidential election on Sunday, President Alassane will probably see voters extend his term.

Ouattara, who has served one term, has led the recovery of the world’s top cocoa producer by boosting growth to more than twice Africa’s average.

The 73-year-old former economist has overseen an economy that’s expanded 9 percent annually since 2012. He faces six opposition candidates, including Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who heads the former ruling Front Populaire Ivoirien. Polling stations were scheduled to open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The electoral commission is bound to publish the results within five days after balloting ends.

A runoff is due Nov. 29 if no one gets at least 50% of the vote.

The opposition is fractured by leadership disputes since Ouattara’s predecessor Laurent Gbagbo was sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face war crimes charges. Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the 2010 vote, triggering a brief civil war that halted cocoa exports and left more than 3,000 people dead.

Under Ouattara, the government has splurged on ambitious infrastructure projects, including bridges, highways and dams, while cocoa and cashew harvests reached record highs.

During his campaign, Ouattara said he will reduce poverty nationwide, widen access to clean water, create jobs for youth and build 60,000 affordable housing units in the next five years.

The United Nations said earlier this year it is reducing the size of its peacekeeping force of 7,000 troops in Ivory Coast and may leave after the elections. UN soldiers have been deployed since 2004 following a failed coup that left the country split between a rebel north and a government south.

Two opposition leaders dropped out of the race because they alleged the vote wouldn’t be fair. A third, former prime minister Charles Konan Banny, withdrew his candidacy on Friday. City authorities of Abidjan, the commercial capital, didn’t give an opposition party permission to hold a protest against the vote Thursday.

Congo’s president for life

In the third African vote on Sunday, people in the Republic of Congo began voting in a referendum on whether longtime President Denis Sassou Nguesso can seek a third term in office that has sparked clashes in the oil-producing country.

Polling booths opened at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) for the ballot on whether to amend the constitution to allow Sassou Nguesso, 71, to extend his grip on power that began more than three decades ago.

Sassou Nguesso: 30 years down, a couple more to go. (Photo/AFP).

The small central African country has been rocked by deadly protests in the run-up to the referendum.

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”.

Archbishop of Brazzaville Anatole Nilandou has appealed to the various political parties to hold talks on the crisis sparked by Sassou Nguesso’s bid to run for another term in 2016.

All traffic except for security forces and those with a special police permit was banned from the roads in Brazzaville Sunday and the capital was quiet at the start of voting.

‘Inclusive dialogue’

One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, Sassou Nguesso, who began his career in the military, took power in 1979 and has been in office ever since, except for a five-year period.

He wants to amend the constitution to change two provisions that disqualify him for running for re-election 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 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% of the votes. Half of his 12 rivals boycotted the most recent election.

The president of former colonial power France, Francois Hollande, Wednesday urged Sassou Nguesso to “calm tensions” while emphasising his right to “consult his people”.

Tens of thousands of the president’s supporters rallied in Brazzaville on October 10 in favour of the constitutional changes.

The turnout dwarfed an anti-government demonstration late last month, when several thousand people poured onto the capital’s streets to protest against the president’s plan to cling to power.

They rallied under the cry “Sassoufit”, a pun on the French expression “ca suffit”, or “that’s enough”.

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