DAR ES SALAAM - Tanzanians go to the polls Sunday for general elections, including the selection of a new president. But unlike in past years, the opposition appears strong this time around and could present a challenge to the country's longtime ruling CCM party.
Here in Dar es Salaam, election season is in full swing. Posters cover walls and billboards, flags fly the colors of the two main parties, and many people are dressed in distinct colors — green and yellow for ruling party CCM, red, white and blue for Chadema, the opposition.
Otieno Ogogo, dressed in green and yellow, says he will be voting for CCM’s presidential candidate, former minister of works John Magufuli, because CCM has done a good job in recent years.
“Look at the peace around us. In many countries, it’s not like that during election period," he noted. "You see people walking around freely, doing shopping freely. And at the same time, look at the development in our city of Dar es Salaam.”
But Chadema supporter and retired banker Anna Lyabandi disagrees. She is particularly frustrated by the educational system and says she will be voting for former prime minister Edward Lowassa, Chadema’s presidential candidate. Anna thinks he will make improvements.
“Well, I think we need a change, I think the ruling party has been in power for so long, and is moving very slowly, in terms of development, so I think Chadema is the party to bring change," she said.
The perception of CCM as moving slowly has been a challenge during the campaign, says CCM national executive committee member January Makamba. But he argues that Tanzania has seen much progress in the past 10 years.
“Some of the young people who complain the most about our party are the ones who have done the best in their lives over the past 10 years," he noted. "You know, once you are in power for such a long time, sometimes people come to a point where they just seek change just for the sake of it. But what we have done, we have picked a candidate who counter-balances that notion of a tired, old corrupt party.”
Mwesiga Baregu, a member of Chadema’s central committee, says that CCM already had its chance.
“But what they are saying and what the candidate is saying is, give us another chance, we’ll try better next time, I’m sure. And what we are saying is that 50 years-plus is a long time and that probably Tanzanians deserve better.”
Benson Bana, a co-chairman of CEMOT, the Coalition on Election Monitoring and Observation in Tanzania, says his organization has deployed 350 observers in all parts of the country. They are watching to see if the electoral process is credible, free and fair. So far, so good, he says.
“The election management, it seems this time, they are well-positioned to deliver an election that’s going to be credible to the Tanzanian people," Bana told VOA.
Unlike his counterparts in Burundi and other African countries, President Jakaya Kikwete chose not to seek a third term this year. That may have lowered tension and set the stage for what looks like it will be a peaceful vote.