Tanzania General Elections: October 25, 2020

Kariakoo Market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and former capital. Photo credit: Flickr/Marco Zanferrari (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Freedom House Rating
Partly Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic
55.5 million
Presidential and Legislative Elections
October 2020 (due)
Local Elections
November 24, 2019
Presidential and Legislative Elections
October 25, 2015

Tanzania is due to hold presidential and legislative elections on October 25, 2020. Voters will elect a president plus most of the 393 seats in the unicameral National Assembly. Additionally, the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar will hold elections to choose its president, most of the 88 members of its unicameral House of Representatives, and local councillors.

Political Context

Tanzania’s socialist Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and its predecessors have been in power since 1961. In the 2015 elections, deemed imperfect but credible by observers, CCM’s John Magufuli won the presidency, and has subsequently launched a crackdown on the opposition, media, civil society, and the private sector.

The main opposition center-right Chadema, whose leader Freeman Mbowe recently spent nearly five months in prison on charges of sedition, currently holds 62 out of 384 seats in the unicameral National Assembly. Their presidential candidate in 2015 – in coalition with other opposition parties – was Edward Lowassa. He won 40 percent of the vote. However, he has since returned to CCM along with other opposition figures who have been bribed or bullied into crossing the aisle and joining the ruling party.

In the November 2019 local elections – which the opposition boycotted because many of their candidates were disqualified, harassed, threatened, or physically attacked – CCM won 99 percent of the seats. International observers said that the elections lacked credibility.

The 2020 Elections and Harassment of the Opposition

The opposition does plan to contest the 2020 elections. Chadema deputy chair Tundu Lissu has announced he is running for president against Magufuli, who is running for re-election. A day after Lissu announced his candidacy, Chadema leader Mbowe was violently attacked and left with a broken leg. Lissu himself subsequently faced an assassination attempt in 2017, and lived in exile in Belgium from that point until July 2020, when he returned to Tanzania.

In the same vein, the leader and seven other officials of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT), a smaller opposition party, were arrested in June. The government also revoked the license of the newspaper Tanzania Daima, owned by Freeman Mbowe’s family, in June, the latest in a series of suspensions of media outlets.

The Economist notes, “Today Tanzania is on the descent from patchy democracy towards slapdash dictatorship.” While the country has historically been a beacon of stability, the next elections could cause an eruption of protest and chaos if they are not seen as free and fair.

Zanzibar Elections

Concurrently with the general election, Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar will also hold regional elections. Authorities annulled the results of the 2015 elections in Zanzibar after results indicated a possible opposition victory. The opposition boycotted the re-run, and tensions remain high. Past Zanzibar elections have been surrounded by violence, and analysts fear that the upcoming polls could be among the most violent yet.

Geopolitical Context

In 2012, energy companies discovered natural gas reserves off Tanzania’s coast, but exports have not yet begun. Tanzania also has mineral wealth. China and Tanzania inked a deal in 2013 to build a $10 billion port, but the project has hit a snag and is currently stalled. The port, which also has backing from Oman, could potentially transform Tanzania’s economy within 10 years.

Curated News and Analysis

The Citizen/The East African (October 1, 2020): Tanzanian electoral body reinstates 67 opposition candidates after appeals

Sophie Neiman, World Politics Review (August 25, 2020): Tundu Lissu Was Shot 16 Times. Now, He’s Fighting for Tanzania’s Presidency

BBC (July 27, 2020): Tanzania presidential hopeful Tundu Lissu returns home after attempt on life

Al Jazeera (June 16, 2020): Tanzania’s John Magufuli dissolves Parliament ahead of elections: Dissolution comes days after opposition leader Freeman Mbowe was allegedly beaten in a ‘politically-motivated’ attack.

Chrispin Mwakideu, DW (June 10, 2020): Tanzania: Opposition cries foul over attacks on leaders as election looms

Fumbuka Ng’Wanakilala, Bloomberg (June 8, 2020): Assassination Survivor Bid to Run for President in Tanzania

Zitto Kabwe, African Arguments (February 3, 2020): If the elections aren’t free and fair, Tanzania will be a one-party state

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content, and their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here

Updated October 1, 2020

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