I am honoured 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 right to vote on 25 October 2015.
The Group has been present in Tanzania since 19 October having been preceded by an advance team which arrived in the country on 7 October. During this period, we met with the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), political parties, civil society, including women and youth groups, media representatives, the Police, Commonwealth High Commissioners and other election observer missions.
On 23 October, our teams were deployed throughout Tanzania to observe the election environment and preparations. Ahead of Election Day, teams met electoral officials, political parties and the police at the district level to gain a comprehensive picture of the electoral processes and environment. Commonwealth teams also observed the final campaign events around the country.
The following is an initial assessment of the critical aspects of the election process and the electoral environment. Our final report, which we will complete before our departure, will be issued at a later date.
The emergence of the 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 localised 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 and Unguja reported that those campaigns which they observed were peaceful. We note, however, that the campaigns in Zanzibar were concluded on the 23 October, a day earlier than scheduled, in order to cool down the political temperature. Our general conclusion is that in spite of some tensions and minor incidents, the fundamental rights of candidates, political parties and supporters to assemble and campaign were observed.
A significant number of stakeholders who briefed the Group expressed concern about the late timing and limited reach of voter education ahead of these elections. Likewise, we heard concerns that the late conduct of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise risked disenfranchising some voters.
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 metre 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. On 23 October the High Court ruled that, all voters should leave the premises after voting and return home. The ruling provided clear direction on the issue.
Our Observers were keen to see how these critical pre-election issues might impact the polls across the country and we comment on these aspects below.
There has been a proliferation of media in Tanzania since multi-party elections in 1995. The media landscape 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 airtime 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 concerns that media coverage of the elections tended to favour the governing party. The Group were told of instances where journalists were pressured into writing pro-government campaign material. In Zanzibar, where there are no privately owned newspapers, there were allegations of media bias in favour of the government.
On Election Day, our observers reported that most voting stations opened on time with a few exceptions. For instance, our observers witnessed one polling station in the Kinondoni district, of Dar es Salaam which delayed its opening until noon, due to the absence of the voter register. Polling officials informed us around midday that the Returning Officer had instructed that the supplementary voter register should be used. Other incidents where polling stations did not open at all due to insufficient materials, among other administrative and logistical issues, were also brought to our attention later in the day. The NEC confirmed that voting took place in these stations yesterday.
Polling officials largely followed opening procedures and voters exercised their franchise in a smooth process. It was noted that ballot box lids and ballot papers were in corresponding colours for each election, which provided clarity for voters. However, there were very long queues in places and a slow pace of voting due to the tripartite elections in the mainland, and five elections in Zanzibar. These required polling officials to provide voters with three separate ballot papers in the mainland and five in Zanzibar, with their card numbers recorded on each counterfoil. The pace of voting did pick up during the course of the day and by 4:00pm our observers found that there were hardly any queues in many polling stations.
We also observed that presiding officers and their deputies in many cases appeared to be overwhelmed by the many tasks they had to perform: for example, in some polling stations, the presiding officer had to issue and stamp ballot papers while simultaneously recording the voter’s card number on the counterfoil. This constrained the ability of presiding officers to perform their primary responsibility of managing polling stations, as required by law.
We commend the competence of polling officials, many of whom were young men and women. They collaborated with party agents in a collegial atmosphere, assisted elderly and differently- abled voters, and maintained calm and order in the polling stations.
Where there were anomalies in the application of certain procedures, they were not of such gravity to negatively impact the integrity of the process.
We further note that on Election Day, the voter register appeared robust with few incidents where voters did not find their names on the register, possibly allaying some anxieties about the BVR process. In some cases however, some voters were allowed to vote after completing the necessary forms.
On Election Day, Commonwealth Observers found that the 200 metre issue did not pose any problems. We noted the discreet, yet effective police presence.
Our overall assessment of the voting process, based on our observations is that it was conducted in a peaceful, calm and orderly manner, according to the procedures outlined in the laws of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The electoral environment on Election Day was conducive to the free exercise of the people’s franchise and basic freedoms were respected.
We will provide some recommendations on how the process might be further improved in our final report.
At the close of polls at 4:00pm, 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 note however, that these were not of such a magnitude as to negatively impact on the overall process. We will 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.
We conclude that the closing and counting were conducted transparently, and in accordance with the laws of Tanzania.
We note that the results process is ongoing. Tallying of results continues across the country. We have received reports of tensions in some places where our Observers are based including in Mtwara and Mwanza. We note with particular concern the decision by the Civic United Front (CUF) to prematurely announce results in Zanzibar, which exacerbated tensions there.
We wish to commend the people of 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 will reflect further on possible areas for improvement. In particular, we will address two critical recommendations which the 2010 Commonwealth Observer Group proposed, both of which remain unimplemented: the lack of legal recourse for challenges to the outcome of the presidential elections; and the need to bolster the independence of the NEC and ZEC.
Our final report will be submitted in due course to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who will subsequently share it with relevant stakeholders before it is made public.
Note to Editors
The Commonwealth Observer Group is made up of 14 eminent people drawn from 53 countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Europe. Together they bring unique and extensive wide ranging expertise in politics, media, diplomacy, civil society, youth, elections and conflict prevention.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. It is home to 2.2 billion citizens, of which over 60% are under the age of 30. The Commonwealth includes some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries, spanning five regions. Thirty-one of its members are small states, many of them island nations. Commonwealth countries are supported by an active network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civil society, cultural and professional organizations.