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Campaigning Winds Down on Zanzibar's Semi-Autonomous Islands

Sunday's elections on Tanzania's semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar are tightly contested by the ruling party and the main opposition group.

Campaigning is winding down for the half-dozen political parties on the Unguja and Pemba islands of Zanzibar, known for their pristine beaches and plantations of cloves, nutmeg and other spices.

Semi-autonomous Zanzibar has its own president and parliament, but has shared a union government with the mainland since 1964. Zanzibar has jurisdiction over domestic issues, such as health and education, while the mainland controls defense, foreign affairs and finance, among others.

On Sunday, Zanzibaris will be electing their president, legislators and local councilors. Elections for representatives in the union government will take place in December, because the mainland elections have been postponed until then.

Rashid Kejo is a mainland journalist hired as a media monitor by the United Nations Development Program and the Media Institute of Southern Africa. He says the real contest on Zanzibar is between the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM, and the main opposition party, Civic United Front, or CUF.

"In the real sense, you cannot predict exactly, which one is going to win," said Rashid Kejo. "Apart from the propaganda, apart from the people in the government, or in the opposition parties [who say] that 'we're going to win, we're going to win,' nobody can exactly tell you that 'I'm going to win' in the deep of his or her heart."

Mr. Kejo says, some of the voters are divided along ethnic and religious lines. He says the ruling CCM is sometimes associated with the Afro-Shirazi party, which was Zanzibar's ruling party prior to 1977, and considered to be what he calls indigenous, black African.

Some Zanzibaris are sensitive about the Arab slave trade, abolished in the 1870s.

Mr. Kejo says the opposition CUF is commonly thought of as being an Islamist party, largely because it originates from Zanzibar. More than 90 percent of the islands' population is Muslim.

CUF officials deny that it is an Islamist party. In a recent interview on the mainland, CUF director of information and publicity Richard Hiza Tambwe told VOA his party's policy is to give people equal rights to education, health care and other services.

"Actually, our leader of the opposition, who is also our deputy secretary-general for mainland, is a Christian," said Richard Hiza Tambwe. "Our first chairman was a Christian. Our second chairman was a Christian. Myself, I'm also a Christian. So, I think that was just part of the propaganda, which CCM started, to make sure that we don't go up. Some people, they are religious, or they're against Muslims, so that's why they can label you as a Muslim party, when they have something bitter against you."

The two parties are bitter rivals, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar.

The opposition CUF has repeatedly accused the ruling party of fomenting violence and using state resources to ensure victory in elections.

They accuse the ruling party of violations including bringing in large numbers of troops from the mainland to intimidate voters, blocking more than 12,000 voters from registering and training young people to attack opposition supporters with crude weapons.

The government says the troops are to ensure security and denies the other allegations. In a recent interview on the mainland, the party's assistant secretary for political affairs and international relations, Nape Moses Nnauye, told VOA he thinks the opposition CUF is raising such allegations because it fears it will lose the election.

"They are looking for excuses because they know for sure they are going to lose the election," said Nape Moses Nnauye. "For some of these leaders, this is their third time they are contesting, and I think they have been told that, 'if you fail this time, then we don't need you again.' They have to look for the excuse that the election was not free and fair. If people lose the election, they say it was not free and fair."

The 1995 elections, the first multiparty elections since Tanzania restored multi-party politics three years earlier, were won by the ruling CCM. The party won again in 2000. In both cases, international monitors and human rights groups reported serious election irregularities.

In early 2001, police used force to dispel peaceful protests, leaving scores dead and injured. In October 2001, the two parties signed an accord that, among other things, enabled two opposition CUF representatives to sit on the Zanzibar Electoral Commission.

There have also been violent demonstrations in the months leading up to this year's elections. In a July 22 report, the East Africa Law Society said the registration process was corrupted with, " the unjustifiably violent Zanzibar police targeting suburbs or sections that are perceived to be opposition strongholds."