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In Tanzania, No Shortage of Surprises as Poll Nears

Tanzania's public works minister John Pombe Magufuli, right, celebrates with President Jakaya Kikwete, left, after the ruling party announced its presidential candidate, in Dodoma, Tanzania, July 12, 2015.

Tanzania’s presidential elections are less than two weeks away and analysts are debating whether the country’s ruling party can retain the presidency. A party favorite was passed over for the nomination, so he defected and became the opposition party’s candidate.

Tanzania’s general election is fast approaching and is considered to be the country’s most contested since the return of multiparty politics in 1992.

Incumbent president Jakaya Kikwete decided to step down after two terms in office, clearing the way for a campaign season filled with plenty of twists and turns.

Research associate Adjoa Anyimadu, with the Africa program at Chatham House in London, said, “What we have right now is an election that no one really could have predicted, I think, this time last year. Early on in the race, toward the presidential candidate being chosen for CCM, many people predicted that that candidate would be Edward Lowassa, because he has been a long-standing, prominent member of that party.”

Relative unknown

But Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM, the country’s dominant ruling party, held its presidential primaries in July, and instead selected a relatively unknown candidate.

“The choice of John Magufuli, the minister of works, as CCM’s candidate, came as a surprise to most people," said Anyimadu. "He was not necessarily very well known internationally. He was not someone who was considered to have an international profile, but within Tanzania he is very well respected for having been a successful minister of works, for having presided over a lot of the development that Tanzania really desperately needs, so road developments and this kind of thing.”

Edward Lowassa was prime minister under President Kikwete from 2005 until 2008, when he stepped down after being implicated in the Richmond Energy scandal.

As a former party elite, Lowassa has remained popular and still retains support within CCM. But once he was passed over as CCM’s presidential candidate, he defected to Chadema, Tanzania’s main opposition party. In August, he was named the presidential candidate for Ukawa, a coalition of four opposition parties including Chadema.

American University associate professor of government Adrienne LeBas said Lowassa is the candidate whose name has become synonymous with scandal.

“He does have a reputation for corruption, and when he was prime minister the opposition used to run on a sort of clean broom kind of campaign, citing corruption, inside the administration. So they have now placed this corrupt minister as their flag bearer.”

Campaign promises

LeBas said both of the leading candidates are promising to improve lives for ordinary Tanzanians.

“Both are really running on services provision, saying that they are going to bring water, education, or, you know, roads, or electricity or any of these things that voters want," she said. "Now in the past in Tanzania, opposition parties have not really been able to run on that platform very effectively, they do not have any track record actually delivering services."

But because Lowassa is a former prime minister, LeBas said he can tell voters he already has brought them services, whether building a dam or bringing them water.

Yet another unexpected occurrence in this year's election cycle.

Tanzanians head to the polls on October 25.