Groups of opposition supporters reportedly clashed with security forces in several areas of Zanzibar on the morning of Tuesday, October 27, as early voting begins in the region a day ahead of the country's general election. Hundreds of security forces personnel are reported to have been deployed across the archipelago to maintain order during early voting on the islands, but opposition groups staged a number of demonstrations against the move on Tuesday morning.
On Pemba Island, north of Zanzibar itself, the opposition ACT-Wazalendo (Alliance for Change and Transparency) stated that at least three of its supporters were killed after police used tear gas and live fire to disperse a group protesting the distribution of ballot papers. At least nine others are reported to have been injured in the incident. Clashes were also reported in the Garagara area outside the Zanzibar capital Stone Town, where the ACT-Wazalendo leader Seif Sharif Hamad was arrested after attempting to enter a polling station. Police are reported to have fired tear gas to disperse crowds of Hamad's supporters, with some officers believed to have fired live rounds.
Unconfirmed reports state that mobile data networks and social media sites have also been disrupted across the archipelago on Tuesday.
Further clashes and unrest are likely across Zanzibar in the medium term, with widespread disruptions expected on the islands in the coming days.
The semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar has long experienced increased levels of political instability compared to mainland Tanzania, with deep-rooted tensions between the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and opposition groups having fueled periodic outbreaks of unrest and resulted in tense electoral periods. After the controversial annulment of the results from the region in Tanzania's 2015 general election amid a political crisis, opposition groups boycotted the 2016 re-run of the vote in a campaign marked by several low-intensity bombings and arson attacks and subsequently engaged in a passive resistance movement against the government.
Following the 2015-16 political crisis in the region, the government passed legislation allowing the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) to stage early voting in national elections, a day ahead of the mainland, in order for security forces and government services to be available for public voting on polling day. However, opposition groups have accused the government and ZEC of using early voting on the islands to facilitate vote rigging amid a lack of transparency over the process.
Nationally, President John Magufuli and the CCM are widely expected to win the general election on Wednesday, October 28, with the opposition being weakened by restrictive laws, internal divisions, and intimidation and harassment from the current government. However, elections in Tanzania have previously been marred by violence and unrest, particularly in opposition strongholds and on Zanzibar, and there is a realistic possibility that these areas will become increasingly volatile during and immediately following election day.
Those in Zanzibar are advised to minimize non-essential movement within the territory during the voting period and immediately following the polls, and should closely monitor developments in their own particular area of operations.
Those in Tanzania are advised to remain apprised of the political situation, avoid all public demonstrations and election-related events as a precaution, avoid discussing politically-sensitive topics in public or on social media, and heed all directives issued by the local authorities. Travelers should exercise increased vigilance on election day and in the following days and minimize time spent in the vicinity of polling stations and political party offices, particularly during the announcement of results.
Copyright and Disclaimer