The main opposition party in semi-autonomous Zanzibar says a large contingent of soldiers and equipment have been posted to the islands to interfere in Sunday's election, a charge the Zanzibar Electoral Commission denies.

The chairman of the Civic United Front, or CUF, Ibrahim Lipumba, told reporters in Stone Town Friday he and his party are concerned about what he says is a strong army presence being brought into Zanzibar's two main islands of Unguja and Pemba.

"There are 2,700 army personnel and 100 special forces in Pemba and 4,500 army personnel with 165 special forces in Unguja who have been brought here with heavy equipment," said Ibrahim Lipumba. "We fear that they have been brought here for the purpose of interfering in the election, and Zanzibar Electoral Commission's close cooperation with the army would appear to bear that out."

Mr. Lipumba said the Zanzibar Electoral Commission told his party that the Tanzania People's Defense Force had been given the authority to distribute voting materials to polling stations and to supervise the collection of the results and ballot papers from the polls, something his party strongly condemns.

"The use of the army to distribute ballot materials is not ideal but we do not oppose it," he said. "However, CUF cannot accept the use of the army to collect ballot materials, and in particular ballot papers and results forms from polling stations. This is contrary to democratic procedures and in the context of Zanzibar's electoral history, it is very worrying."

The assistant information officer for the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, Saleh Yussuf Mnemo tells VOA his office is unaware of armed forces coming into the islands or that they would intimidate voters if they did come.

"Election is not just a simple issue - there should be forces to try to keep the situation very calm," said Saleh Yussuf Mnemo. "There is a very great tension during the election time. So, we as ZEC actually don't have information that the security forces or armies are coming to Zanzibar. But if they come, we are sure they're only coming for the security purpose, and we don't have a problem with that."

Mr. Mnemo also denies that the islands' army would be involved in distributing and collecting election materials including ballot papers.

"We have decided that the army personnel, they will be accompanying those people who are responsible," he said. "We'll have party agents during the transportation of materials from our offices to the polling stations. Their only function is keeping security."

Observers note that the main race in the October 30 polls is between CUF and the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM. CCM and its predecessors have ruled Tanzania for more than 40 years.

The two parties have a long history of animosity. Elections in 1995 and 2000 were wracked with violence in Zanzibar, and the past few months have seen several street battles between supporters of the two parties.

Zanzibar has its own president and parliament but shares a union government with the mainland. Zanzibar has jurisdiction over domestic affairs such as health and education, while the mainland controls defense, finance, and others. This arrangement dates back to 1964, when mainland Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

On Sunday, Zanzibaris will be electing their president, legislators, and councilors.

Elections on the mainland have been postponed until December, because of the death of a running mate. At that time, Zanzibaris will chose their union representatives.