Observations on Election Day

by Carmine Paolo De Salvo

The big day started with voters being greeted by heavy rain as they arrived at the polling stations in and around Stone Town. I did some ‘unofficial observation’ (just to satisfy my own curiosity) around 11am, when the polling stations had already been open for about 4 hours, initially visiting a couple of polling stations close to my place: the Karume College in Mbweni and a school in Kiembe Samaki. Those areas are very close to each other and both are characterized as CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, the incumbent party) strongholds, since government officials and their families and friends constitute most of the electoral body in these parts.

A list of pictures of registered voters was well visible outside each polling station and made it easier for everyone to find her/his respective voting room. In both polling stations voters’ queues were quite long and many voters, especially women, had decided to sit down outside their respective rooms to wait for their turn to express their preferences. Military forces and police officers where present in each polling station, but there didn’t appear to be any tension or animosity, and indeed they were actually very obliging to me. They let me in and said there was no problem if I wanted to take some pictures (I was dressed as no more than a random tourist and had no government identification document whatsoever. I spoke Swahili to them though and here in Zanzibar Swahili speakers get a better treatment in different circumstances).

Voting operations did not seem to be very quick, maybe because every voter had to fill and fold five different ballot papers (for the President of Zanzibar, President of Tanzania, Zanzibar House of Representatives, Tanzanian Parliament and Local Council). In any case, the whole atmosphere was peaceful and relaxed.

I then moved on to town, which is usually a CUF (Civic United Front, the opposition) stronghold. I had a look at the polling station close to the Ministry where I work and there, too the situation looked tranquil. From there, accompanied by a friend of mine working as a Temco (Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee) observer, I went on to visit some of the more economically deprived areas around town.

We visited three different polling stations in the vicinities of the Kariakoo and Amani areas and the scenes were very similar to the ones that I have already described. These areas are also supposed to be more CCM-inclined. We arrived there around noon and the afflux of people was clearly decreasing (people here tend to go to vote early, as they get up very early as well). The presence of military forces was heavier in these last polling stations, but again incident-free. In one of the polling stations we noticed some a shortage of ballot papers (but just for the Tanzanian Parliament). This clearly showed at least some serious mismanagement. As far as I could understand from some Temco observers, vote counting will be suspended for that constituency and voters will be given the opportunity to vote on another date. But it is important to underline that these are just rumours that I heard and I can’t provide any official confirmation.

Such was my experience of Zanzibari elections. To be honest, my impressions were moderately positive. Of course, problems can still occur, especially when the votes are counted and results announced. I cannot predict what will happen in the next hours, but I am pleased to have witnessed what seemed to be a decent enough democratic exercise. So far, at least.

Comments are closed.