October 22, 2010 / 12:43 PM / 10 years ago

Tanzania's Kikwete to win poll with tight margin

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanians will vote in a presidential and parliamentary election on October 31 that incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete is expected to win despite slipping in opinion polls in recent weeks.

Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete addresses the opening session of a two-day conference at the Bank of Tanzania conference center in Dar es Salaam, March 10, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Jaffe/International Monetary Fund/Handout

Kikwete is seeking a second and final term in office after a campaign dominated by promises to fight corruption and poverty in east Africa’s second largest economy.

A presidential election will also be held on the same day on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, which enjoys a degree of autonomy within its union with Tanzania.

Polls on the palm-fringed islands off Tanzania were tainted by bloodshed and allegations of vote rigging in 2000 and 2005.

Concern over corruption and weak governance have prompted donors to give less development support than they had pledged for the past few years.

“The election campaign has been very robust. We have an incumbent president seeking re-election and a newcomer growing in popularity at a time when the general mood is that of change,” said Moses Kulaba, a political analyst.

Kikwete, 60, who won in 2005 with over 80 percent of the vote, has seen his popularity plunge to 38 percent in October from 77.2 percent in April, partly due to failed promises, according to opinion polls.

Seven candidates are in the race, but only two are considered serious contenders.

Kikwete of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party faces a strong challenge from Willibrod Slaa of the Chadema party.

“TWO-HORSE RACE”

“I don’t think the ruling party will lose. I think Kikwete will win with a small margin of the vote - probably between 50 to 65 percent of the vote,” said Kulaba.

“It’s a two-horse race between Kikwete and Slaa. This is very historical because the Civic United Front (CUF) has traditionally been the main opposition party in Tanzania.”

“Slaa has emerged as an unexpected presidential candidate and his message of change is resonating with voters anxious for a new direction,” political commentator Azaveli Lwaitama said.

The CUF’s presidential candidate, Ibrahim Lipumba, trails a distant third in opinion polls.

“Kikwete is promising what he can’t deliver, while others argue that Slaa has no experience and spends too much time criticising the incumbent president instead of telling us what he can do for this country,” said Asha Muhidin, a university student in Dar es Salaam.

“On the other hand, I think Lipumba has been in the presidential race for too long and has nothing new to offer.”

The 62-year-old Slaa has been campaigning on a platform of change, with promises to end corruption and review mining contractsin Africa’s third largest gold producer.

“The use of Tanzania’s natural resources for economic development and how to address the problem of corruption have been at the centre of debate in this election,” said Kulaba.

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Religion has emerged as a divisive issue in the run up to the election.

Kikwete, a moderate Muslim, has criticised rivals for using religion to gain a foothold in the election and warned that the government would not tolerate any bloodshed.

Security forces are on alert ahead of the election, which is expected to be peaceful with maybe a few incidents of violence.

A peaceful vote is expected in Zanzibar between the CUF’s Seif Sharif Hamad and the ruling CCM party’s Ali Mohamed Shein.

Kikwete has described the archipelago as the “Achilles’ heel” of an otherwise peaceful union of 40 million people.

Zanzibar has approved a constitutional amendment that will force the rival parties to share power by forming a coalition government after the election, and analysts say its presidential race is too close to call.

“There will be no winner and loser in this election because CCM and CUF have agreed to the formation of a coalition government after the election,” said Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi, dean of the University of Dar es Salaam’s faculty of law.

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