I’m honoured to chair Commonwealth election team to Tanzania – Jonathan
Since conceding defeat in Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election, former President Goodluck Jonathan has undertaken his first international assignment as chairman of the Commonwealth observer group to the general elections in Tanzania. He speaks on the electoral process in that country.
How do you feel as chairman of the Commonwealth Observer Group being your first international assignment after handing over back in Nigeria?
I am honored to have chaired the Commonwealth observer mission during such significant elections for the people of the United Republic of Tanzania. Our presence here reaffirms the Commonwealth’s support to the country and its democratic process. The Commonwealth observer group commends the people of Tanzania for the peaceful and orderly manner in which they exercised their rights to vote on October 25th, 2015.
On 23 October, our teams were deployed throughout Tanzania to observe the election environment and preparations. The Commonwealth teams also observed the final campaign events around the country. Our final report, which we will complete before our departure, would be issued at a later date.
What has this group observed that entails multiparty democracy on the mainland Tanzania and the island nation of Zanzibar?
The emergence of UKAWA alliance of opposition parties, following the constitutional reform process which has now been shelved, heightened the competitive nature of these elections. We were therefore pleased to note, from our briefings with the police and other stakeholders, that the campaigns which attracted large crowds, were generally peaceful, although reports of some incidents were recorded. In Zanzibar where tensions between the two main parties were high, we heard similar reports about the campaigns. Our observers in Pemba (Island) and Unguja reported that those campaigns which they observed were peaceful. We note, however, that the campaigns in Zanzibar were concluded on the 23rd October, a day earlier than scheduled, in order to cool down the political temperature.
Our general conclusion was that in spite of some tensions and minor incidents, the fundamental rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were observed.
What was the major legal issue between the ruling and opposition parties?
An issue that divided the political parties was the interpretation of Section 104 of the National Elections Act which prohibits people from assembling within a 200 metres radius of any polling station. While one party asserted that its supporters could stay on after voting as long as they were beyond the 200 metre radius, another held the view that irrespective of this provision, after voting, voters should leave the premises and go home.
How would this group rate the balance on media coverage of the campaigns between the parties?
There has been a proliferation of media in Tanzania since multi-party elections in 1995. The media is on the whole split between state-run media and the private sector but media ownership is limited to a few powerful players. The law provides for an allocation of air time which is available to all political party broadcasts. It also states that there should be equitable opportunities to access free time and the amount of time allocated to political parties and the rates charged should be consistent to all parties and candidates. However, some stakeholders expressed concern that media coverage of the elections tended to favour the governing party.
What is the assessment of for the free exercise of the people’s franchise and basic freedoms were respected. We would provide some recommendations on how the process might be further improved in our final report.
Were there inconsistencies in the application of procedures?
At the close of polls at 4pm, the long queues in some places had thinned out. Where there were still voters in the queue, they were allowed to vote in line with the law. Closing procedures were also generally well observed. In some instances, there were inconsistencies in the application of procedures. We noted however, that they were not of such a magnitude as to negatively impact on the overall process. We would propose recommendations on this matter in our final report.
Polling officials and party agents collaborated in a collegial spirit during the count. Our observers recorded few spoilt ballots. It appears voters were conversant with the process and also knew how to make their mark. Where there were contested ballots, the polling officials and party agents resolved the matter amicably.
Was the collation of results impressive?
We have received reports of tension in some places where our observers are based including in Mtwara and Mwanza. We noted with particular concern the decision by the Civic United Front (CUF) to prematurely announce results in Zanzibar, which exacerbated tensions there.
How would your group classify the electorate who were openly divided between the two main parties, the ruling CCM and opposition CHADEMA?
We wish to commend the people of the United Republic of Tanzania for demonstrating their commitment to democracy by engaging so keenly with the electoral process in a peaceful and orderly manner. We call on all stakeholders, in particular the political leadership and their supporters in Zanzibar, to continue to show restraint and magnanimity and to uphold their commitment to national unity, peace and solidarity. We believe the people of Tanzania deserve that from their leadership. In our final report, we would reflect on possible areas for improvement. In particular, we would address two official recommendations which the 2010 Commonwealth observer group proposed, both of which remained unimplemented.