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Election Observers Give Zanzibar Poll Thumbs Up

In the two days following Sunday's polls in semi-autonomous Zanzibar, most preliminary statements from foreign observer missions say that, despite occasional problems, the elections overall went well. This is in sharp contrast to what the opposition, many voters, and journalists say they have seen and experienced. The opposition on Tuesday claimed victory in the election, but said that it expected election officials to declare the ruling party candidate the winner.

Perhaps the most effusive in its praise of Sunday's polls is the mission from the Southern African Development Community, or SADC.

In its statement, SADC describes the elections as showing what it terms "political tolerance and maturity," evidence of a "culture of multi-partyism" on the islands. The results, SADC says, "will reflect the will of the people."

Similar glowing remarks were made by the leader of the African Union's observer mission, the speaker of South Africa's parliament, Baleka Mbete. She commends the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, or ZEC, and other participants in the voting.

"Notwithstanding any organizational and logistical difficulties in some areas, the AU observer mission wishes to seize this opportunity to congratulate ZEC for well-organized and executed elections; the political parties for mature contestation, and the people of Zanzibar for their responsible and largely peaceful participation in the electoral process," said Ms. Mbete.

Voters in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous state in Tanzania, went to the polls Sunday to elect a president.

The Commonwealth Observer Group notes that at the polling stations of Forodhani, Mtoni, and Kiwanda cha Madawa in Stone Town on Unguja Island, there was violence involving police, voters, and people alleged to have voted twice. The Commonwealth group says that some voters did vote more than once.

Although the group calls on the Zanzibar Electoral Commission to investigate what happened at those three stations, and the effect it will have on the results there, the group says "overall, this was a good election."

However, the National Democratic Institute from the United States has issued a more critical preliminary. It also referred to violence at voting stations and unregistered voters casting their ballots at some stations. It said many people in Stone Town were suspicious of the final voters' register, which was not made available to the public or candidates until election day.

The group was concerned about the impartiality of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission and said the attorney general voided a contract that the commission had signed with a company to conduct an audit of the voter register.

The observer missions' preliminary statements were in sharp contrast to what the opposition, many voters, and journalists say they had witnessed and experienced.

The presidential candidate for the main opposition party, Civic United Front, Seif Sharif Hamad says he concludes that the elections were anything but free and fair.

"The electoral process has been marred with a number of shortcomings," Mr. Hamad said. "First of all, a number of our party agents were not supplied with results sheets, and as such that may lead to the results to be cooked in some areas. Secondly, we have realized that about 80,000 people could not vote, and some of them had voting cards. Their names were listed outside, but they were not in the register. Because of that, you find these people are denied their right [to vote]."

Mr. Hamad calls on the election commission to address those concerns before issuing final results, and says his party plans to stage peaceful protests if members determine that the results do not reflect the will of Zanzibaris.

CUF officials and journalists report seeing truckloads of youth nicknamed "janjaweed" and others being brought in to many polling stations by the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM, to vote. At times, armed soldiers and police were seen escorting groups of voters, whose names were not on voting lists at those locations into polling stations.

On election day, several voters at different locations reported seeing similar situations. Salim Mohamed Abdallah, lining up to cast his ballot at Haile Selassie Secondary School, said he recognized plain clothes police officers, who he claimed had been sent to vote for the ruling party.

"They come to vote in this station, and they have no right to vote here," said Mr. Abdallah. "So we are very, very worried about that. I'm sure they're going to vote in more than one, two or three stations."

Other votes complained about not being allowed to cast ballots although their names were on the voters' list, or finding voter ID numbers printed incorrectly on the lists, and of harassment by security forces.

While CCM maintains that the elections are free and fair, and were conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner, it has its share of complaints.

CCM accused CUF supporters of intimidating and beating up voters, and seriously injuring one voter with a machete. The ruling party alleges that CUF supporters stole the voting cards of eight young women.

The observer missions are in the process of compiling their reports, which are expected to be released later this week or next week. They say they will examine all complaints before they make their final announcements on the elections.

CCM and its predecessors have ruled Tanzania for more than 40 years. CUF accuses CCM of rigging the 1995 and 2000 elections, and says CCM stole victory from CUF in both elections.