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Ruling party faces tough challenge in Tanzanian election

Reuters , Friday 23 Oct 2015
Former Tanzania's Prime Minister and main opposition party CHADEMA presidential candidate Edward Lowassa arrives for a campaign rally in Tanga October 21, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Tanzania's ruling party faces its toughest election test on Sunday in more than half of a century in power as it seeks to fend off a presidential bid by a former prime minister who has vowed to create jobs that will help the poor.

With two independent polls giving Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) the lead, the ruling party is still favoured to retain the presidency and keep a parliamentary majority, albeit probably smaller.

But campaigning has exposed public frustration with the pace of change in an East African nation endowed with gas and mineral deposits but lagging other regional economies.

"Tanzania has natural gas, minerals and so many other resources yet we don't see any benefit," said Hamisi Shomary, 22, who carries paying customers on his motorbike.

Early results are expected on Monday, with final figures due within three days of voting.

Tanzania has been one of Africa's most stable democracies, periodically changing presidents if not the ruling party, although violence has sometimes flared on the autonomous island of Zanzibar where Islamists and separatists have a strong voice.

Yet businesses and the public are increasingly angry at endemic corruption, regular power cuts and creaking transport.

"The ruling party has been in power for 54 years now. Enough is enough. We need a change of leadership," said Janeth Mushi, 32, a businesswoman in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

Edward Lowassa, the 62-year-old former premier leading the opposition presidential bid, has his strongest support in cities. He has drawn thousands to rallies as the main opposition parties have united behind one candidate for the first time.

Works Minister John Magufuli, 55, of the CCM has also promised change and has even complained of inaction by parts of the government of CCM's outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, who has served a maximum of two five-year terms.

Magufuli can boast a new rapid transport bus system in Dar es Salaam that has been almost completed on his watch. Several major new roads now cross the nation of 47 million people.

"It use to take two hours to get to my village but he made sure that the road was built," hairdresser Honesta Pius, 40, said at a CCM rally this week.

Yet, while both candidates promise a new start, neither represents a real break from the past. Lowassa only quit the CCM in July, when the party snubbed him as their candidate. Magufuli's political career has been with CCM.

CCM still has the upper hand in the election because it can rely on institutions of state to broadcast its message across country, experts say. The government insists it does not use state agencies for political ends.

Yet, if it wins, the ruling party will need to do more to encourage investment and shake off a reputation for letting bureaucracy hamper development.

Plans for a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant have stalled. The site of the plant has yet to be announced, although it was expected at least two years ago.

Honest Ngowi, economics professor of Muzumbe University, said sturdy growth had yet to make a real difference to many. "The kind of growth we have seen in Tanzania has not been reducing poverty," he said.

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