Voters in Tanzania have cast ballots in elections overshadowed by opposition allegations of “widespread irregularities”, including ballot-box stuffing, amid a massive internet slowdown.
President John Magufuli seeks a second term in office despite criticism by the opposition of stifling dissent and narrowing democratic space since he took office five years ago. Nicknamed by his supporters “The Bulldozer”, the 60-year-old has won plaudits for his efforts to strengthen the economy, reduce wasteful public spending and pursue large-scale development projects.
Some 29 million people had registered to vote in Wednesday’s elections for a president in mainland Tanzania and the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, as well as for lawmakers and local councilors.
Results declared by the electoral commission cannot be challenged in court, bringing urgency to vote-monitoring efforts, but the opposition said observers were turned away from scores of polling stations on Wednesday. Many journalists from foreign media, including Al Jazeera, were not able to obtain accreditation to cover the elections while major social media networks were blocked, accessible only through virtual private networks.
Meanwhile, major independent observers such as the European Union were not invited or barred, unlike in previous elections.
In a Twitter post on Wednesday, top opposition candidate Tundu Lissu, of the Chadema party, alleged “widespread irregularities” as voting got under way.
Having survived an assassination attempt in 2017, Lissu returned from exile this year to challenge Magufuli. The 52-year-old has urged supporters to stage protests on the streets if election results are announced on Thursday without ballots being counted properly.
“Mass democratic action will be the only option to protect the integrity of the election,” said Lissu.