Tanzanian President Faces Spirited Opposition in Tense Vote

Tanzanians started voting in general elections on Wednesday, with President John Magufuli’s party likely to extend its decades-long rule on the country that’s one of Africa’s top four gold producers.

Magufuli, 61, whose Chama Cha Mapinduzi has governed for more than half a century, is seeking a second five-year term to continue major infrastructure works, including an expansion of Tanzania’s road and rail networks. His main challenger, Tundu Lissu, is a 52-year-old human rights lawyer and fierce critic of recent curbs on freedom of expression. Lissu’s return from self-imposed exile in Europe earlier this year as candidate of the Chadema party has rallied opposition supporters.

Elected in 2015 on a groundswell of domestic support for his pledge to fight corruption, Magufuli is facing mounting criticism from foreign diplomats and non-governmental organizations for his government’s repressive stance on public dissent. Magufuli has dismissed allegations that he’s curtailing rights, labeling opposition figures as “puppets of imperialism.”

Magufuli has earned praise for scrapping farmers’ taxes and farm-gate fees in the largely agrarian nation of about 60 million people. He created mineral trading centers to halt smuggling and boost the incomes of small-scale miners, cleaned the public payroll of ghost workers and built more than 1,700 health centers.

“All indications suggest that rural voters, traditionally supportive of the ruling party CCM, will carry Magufuli to a second term in office,” Piers Dawson, an analyst at Africa Matters Ltd., said in an emailed note.

Mining Dispute

Even so, some of Magufuli’s policies have chilled foreign investment. In 2017, a unit of Barrick Gold Corp. was presented with a whopping $190 billion tax bill -- a dispute the company has since agreed to settle with a $300 million payment and the creation of a mining joint venture with the government.

Balloting started at 7:00 a.m. and will continue until 4:00 p.m. Results are expected to be announced within a week.

The main opposition party of the semi-autonomous Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, ACT-Wazalendo, accused police on Tuesday of killing several protesters and detaining its candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad. He was released later in the day without charges. Tanzania’s police chief, Simon Sirro, said no one was killed in the unrest.

Internet users said they couldn’t access some social media sites including Twitter on Wednesday. Twitter said Tuesday internet shutdowns violate basic human rights after it saw “some blocking and throttling” of its site.

Lissu has accused authorities of planning to rig the vote and urged his supporters at a rally on Tuesday to “head to the streets if the election is stolen.”

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