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Election Observers Converge in Tanzania

Observer missions from various parts of the world are streaming into Tanzania before the October 30 national elections.

The Commonwealth Observer Group was in meetings all day, preparing to send 19 election observers to different areas of Tanzania.

The group's chairman and former President of Malta, Guido de Marco, told reporters in Dar es Salaam that the team will watch the end of election campaigns and the final preparations for the October 30 polls, and will visit as many polling and counting stations as possible that day.

"Our purpose is to consider the various factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole; to assess whether, in our own judgment, the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors; and to determine if the results of the elections reflect the wishes of the people," he said.

Mr. de Marco said he and his team members, who come from such countries as Canada, India, Britain, and South Africa, would take into account not only their own observations but also the electoral environment as a whole, including the legal framework, the voter registration process, and the freedom of candidates to campaign.

The group, set up by the British-based Commonwealth Secretary-General at the request of the Tanzanian government, is expected to submit a final report to Tanzania's National Electoral Commission and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, among others.

The Commonwealth Observer Group is one of several missions to stream into the East African nation before the October 30th elections.

The National Democratic Institute, based in Washington, has 21 observers including former United States Congressman Larry DeNardis. Currently meeting in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, the group plans to head out to semi-autonomous Zanzibar later in the week.

Other groups include the South African-based Electoral Institute of Southern Africa and three delegations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The October 30 polls are the third since the East African nation restored political pluralism in 1992.

Some 18 political parties are contesting in the elections, with 10 putting up presidential candidates.

Observers note that the race is mainly between two parties: Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), and Civic United Front (CUF).

CCM was formed in 1977 by merging the then-ruling parties of the mainland and the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar, while CUF was registered in 1993.

Polls in Zanzibar, where animosity between CCM and CUF is intense, promise to be controversial. CUF has accused CCM and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission of electoral fraud, while CCM has threatened to crack down on CUF. The past few months have seen several street battles between supporters of the two parties, and elections in 1995 and 2000 were wracked with violence in Zanzibar.