Tanzanian President John Magufuli hopes to win another five-year term when the East African nation holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Wednesday amid criticism from rights groups that the government is stifling political disagreement.
Magufuli’s biggest challengers include Tundu Lissu, who was shot 16 times in 2017, and former Foreign Minister Bernard Membe. The attack on Lissu, who returned from three years in exile in July, has never been resolved.
East Africa’s third largest economy has, according to official figures, recorded an average growth of almost 7% over the last four years, as the government invested billions of dollars in infrastructure including a new railway, a hydropower dam and aircraft for the national airline.
The government plans economic growth of 5.5% in 2020 after COVID-19 hit key sectors such as tourism. The World Bank predicts only a 2.5% expansion.
Magufuli promises voters that his infrastructure projects will create growth of at least 8%. His party has already won 28 parliamentary seats where their candidates are not unanimous, the election commission said.
Opposition leader Lissu has often criticized Magufuli’s economic management and human rights record, promising to “return freedom, justice, respect for human rights and improve people’s development rather than infrastructure development.”
The ruling CCM party, whose version has held power since independence in 1961, won the presidency with 58% of the vote in 2015 and currently holds about three-quarters of the seats in parliament. Tanzania uses a first-post-mail system.
More than 29 million people are registered to vote out of 58 million citizens. They choose from among 15 presidential candidates and elect representatives to 264 parliamentary seats.
Opposition and rights groups say authorities have cracked down on critical voices by closing media outlets and banning public gatherings during Magufuli’s first term.
Last week, a coalition of 65 international rights groups, including the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists and CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, issued a letter criticizing the government.
“Tanzania’s criminal justice system has … been abused to target those who criticize the government,” the letter reads. “NGOs working on human rights issues are deregistered or facing harassment.”
Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections, and that they will disqualify dozens of their parliamentary candidates.
The government has previously denied any degradation and the National Electoral Commission has denied allegations of unfair treatment.