DAR ES SALAAM - A convoy carrying Tanzania's leading opposition candidate was blocked for at least several hours Tuesday, days after the country's National Electoral Commission ordered a temporary halt to his campaigning because of alleged violations.
Tundu Lissu, candidate for the Party for Democracy and Progress, or Chadema, was traveling to the Kibaha district from Dar es Salaam when heavily armed police halted his entourage about 24 kilometers west of the business capital.
Members in Lissu's convoy were detained, though not the candidate himself, according to local news organizations. The Citizen newspaper in Kenya reported the police as saying they would protect the candidate while he is in the region indefinitely.
The Electoral Commission's ethics committee last Friday suspended Lissu from campaigning for seven days, after it reportedly received complaints from the ruling party and another party that the candidate had used seditious language during campaigning. Lissu also was accused of making unplanned addresses to masses of people.
Chadema leaders said they would observe the suspension, though they called it unfair, illegal and unacceptable.
Lissu claimed Tuesday that he was headed to Kibaha to check on his party's activities and to conduct internal meetings. He stressed that he was not actively campaigning or planning rallies.
Police did not respond to VOA requests for information about why they had halted Lissu's entourage.
Lissu faces incumbent President John Magufuli, who seeks a second five-year term in the October 28 general elections. At least a dozen other candidates are vying for the presidency.
According to a timetable released by the Electoral Commission, the 60-year-old Magufuli is taking an eight-day break from campaigning during the same period the 52-year-old Lissu has been forced to pause his campaign.
Lissu has accused the Electoral Commission of trying to silence him.
"They do not want me to be on the campaign trail during the same week that Magufuli is resting," said Lissu. "They are wary of the issues that I will raise for which they have no adequate responses. It is a strategy to scare me, which I am not going to accept."
Meanwhile, the ruling Party of the Revolution (CCM) has been using members — apart from Magufuli and his vice president — to travel around the country to speak with prospective voters. Other parties' presidential and parliamentary candidates also have continued to move about in search of electoral support.
Opposition supporters have objected to the campaign suspension of Lissu, a fierce Magufuli critic who returned to the country in July after three years in Belgium. The former parliamentarian had recuperated there since 2017, after being shot 16 times by unknown assailants in Dodoma.
Response from Electoral Commission officer
But Titus Mwanzalila, an education officer with the Electoral Commission, said Lissu's campaign was not targeted for suspension. He said the commission's ethics committee members come from various political parties. He said those political parties, along with representatives of the government and the commission, decided to call for Lissu's suspension.
Charles Wilson, the Electoral Commission's director of elections, told VOA that prospective voters should be assured that balloting would be transparent and credible.
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania said it does not support any specific candidate or party in Tanzania's upcoming elections but instead supports the democratic process itself, including a genuinely free and fair election.
Reaction from U.S. senator
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement critical of Lissu's suspension.
"Suspending the leading opposition candidate's presidential campaign on bogus charges raises serious questions about the independence of Tanzania's electoral commission," Risch said. "The political violence and repression of opposition candidates, restrictions on independent media, lack of autonomy and transparency by electoral officials, and government authorities' interference reflect Tanzania's history of flawed elections and the country's democratic erosion over the past five years."
Magufuli, who came to power in 2015, has been credited with raising government revenue and initiating reforms of the mining industry.
VOA's Swahili service contributed to this report, as did Peter Clottey of VOA's English to Africa service.