Zanzibar politics: You win, we rule

What ZANU-PF has been doing in Zimbabwe, CCM is doing in Zanzibar. And if anything, Zanzibar is deliberately turning into an ugly face of Tanzania, characterized by the politics of terror, outright vote rigging, and police and military intervention in elections since 1995.

Proud of systematic vote rigging and shamelessly vowing to ‘never let’ the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) rule Zanzibar – by all means – some ruling party stalwarts claim they operate by a silent formula: ‘you win, we rule.

This formula is working to the detriment of Zanzibar. In 1995 the Spice Islands almost became ungovernable after election results gave CCM incumbent Salim Amour 50.24 % of votes against Seif Sharrif Hamad’s 49.76 %.

Five years later, in January 2001, the government deployed and ordered armed police to shoot and kill protesters following another obviously rigged election, whereby the government, on the brink of defeat, ordered police to confiscate ballot boxes from returning officers. They hid them for two weeks, after which the Zanzibar Electoral Commission released results giving the ruling party contender, Amani Karume, a 67.04 % victory. Dozens of rioting civilians died for opposing this government’s winning strategy.

And in 2005, the government resorted to the deployment of the army, which complemented the presence and operation of police forces on every polling station to exert government brutality and abuse of power, in a situation that looked like everything belonged to the government and ruling party: the media, electoral commission, police, army and, of course, the election itself.

Nevertheless, so strong was the opposition that, even with such tactics and resources, the incumbent, Amani Karume, was declared winner by a slim margin of 53.18% against Seif Shariff Hamad’s 46.07%. What if there had been a fair process and share of resources, plus access to voters? What if police and army were not involved in voting illegally and terrorizing voters? What if there were no ineligible, sponsored, mercenary voters from other parts of the country? What if there was no media muzzling by the government? What if there was no ‘you win, we rule’ scheme?

No wonder, then, seeking to temporarily quell local frustrations and appease the international community, the ruling party resorted to engaging the opposition in mwafaka (accord) to address the ‘problems’ of Zanzibar, the cause of which is known to both parties. But, after three consecutive years of negotiation, they have not been able to reach a sound, workable agreement.

Word is out, however, that given the ever rising unpopularity of the ruling party, and based on political episodes in Kenya and Zimbabwe, a power-sharing agreement for a coalition government in Zanzibar is a next possibility after 2010 elections, because the ruling party is pretty sure that the ‘you win, we rule’ tricks cannot go on forever.

With no incumbent contender in 2010, the level of opposition and vote rigging might be on a different scale, but all indications show the ruling party is already involved in a similar scheme, 14 months before next elections.

Interestingly, the government is not waiting for surprises. It is currently tampering with the voters register in Pemba – the opposition stronghold – causing fresh protests from angry civilians, offices being set alight and police opening fire at protestors. Once again, a police state; another Zimbabwe!

The reaction from Tanzania’s main funders (34 percent of the budget), the European Union and the US government, calling for correction of the flaws in the voter registration process, has received unfriendly counter-reactions from the ruling party’s youth wing and the Zanzibar government, but the message is clear. Once again, Zanzibar is involved in the politics of confusion, whereby, when it is in the interested of the ruling party, laws do override the constitution.

The road towards 2010 general elections is full of bumps to frustrate a smooth ride to Zanzibar’s free and fair elections.  And if anyone must do something to save Zanzibar, this is the time to act. It is not enough for EU and US to show concerns in written statements, and yet fund the same process with the hope of sending election observers in October 2010 to find out if the elections will be ‘free and fair.’

Rigging has already started, and it should be put to a halt by concerted efforts of good citizens, morally responsible leaders in Tanzania, as well as its regional and international friends – including donors.

Even with the Zanzibar government and the ruling party lambasting the EU and US for meddling into a sovereign country’s internal affairs – the same excuses used by President Robert Mugabe to defend his political miscalculations in Zimbabwe – something needs to be done now, to save Zanzibar from becoming another Zimbabwe.

As it stands, Zanzibar is deliberately deteriorating into a country where voters have no rights because, after all, it is not their vote that counts, but a decision by those who manage the electoral process – those who wait for others to win, for them to rule.