Tanzania’s president poised to be declared election winner

In this Saturday, July 11, 2020 file photo, President John Magufuli speaks at the national congress of his ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in Dodoma, Tanzania. Tanzanians are due to go to the polls on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 with the future of one of Africa's most populous countries at stake and, at least before the COVID-19 pandemic, one of its fastest-growing economies. (AP Photo, File)

DODOMA, Tanzania (AP) — Tanzania’s president is poised to be declared the overwhelming winner of Wednesday’s election despite widespread allegations of fraud, while the ruling party appears to have secured the two-thirds majority in parliament required to change the constitution.

Populist President John Magufuli has 83% of votes with 60% of ballots counted, the electoral commission said Friday. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has won 194 parliament seats, while opposition parties have won just two. That means upsets even in opposition strongholds, with the leaders of the two main opposition parties losing their seats.

The United States has said “irregularities and the overwhelming margins of victory raise serious doubts about the credibility of the results.” Main opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu with the CHADEMA party, who has received 14% of the vote so far, has rejected the election and called for protests.

The vote “marked the most significant backsliding in Tanzania’s democratic credentials,” Tanzania Elections Watch, a group of regional experts, said in an assessment released Friday. It noted a heavy deployment of military and police whose conduct created a “climate of fear.”

“The electoral process, so far, falls way below the acceptable international standards” for holding free and fair elections, the group said.

The opposition alleges widespread irregularities including blocks on internet and text messaging services, double-voting, ballot box-seizing and the rejection of thousands of election observers from polling stations. Few international observers were allowed to watch the vote.

The electoral commission has denied allegations of irregularities in the East African nation that is one of Africa’s most populous countries and fastest-growing economies. Magufuli has pointed to the country’s achievement of lower-middle-income status as one reason he deserves another term.

But observers say Tanzania’s reputation for democratic ideals is crumbling, with Magufuli accused of severely stifling dissenting voices in his first five-year term. Opposition political gatherings were banned in 2016, the year after he took office. Media outlets have been targeted. Some candidates were arrested, blocked from campaigning or disqualified ahead of the vote.

Now some worry that the ruling party will use the super-majority in parliament to change the constitution to extend the two-term limit for the presidency. Some ruling party leaders have called for that change.

The fear of post-election violence lingers. The presidential candidate with the other main opposition party, ACT Wazalendo, in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar was arrested Thursday for the second time this week, then released and told to report to police on Friday. Another ACT Wazalendo official in Zanzibar, Ismail Jussa, was badly beaten by soldiers and hospitalized, the party said.

Many Tanzanians watched in dismay. “29 #October 2020: One of the most most gloomy days in the political #history of #Tanzania,” tweeted Chambi Chachage, a lecturer in African studies at Princeton University.