Tanzanians voted Sunday in tightly contested presidential and parliamentary elections, with a chance that the ruling party could be ousted for the first time since independence in 1961.
Thousands stood patiently in queues from early morning to cast their ballots. Half of the east African country’s 50 million population is eligible to vote. Polls closed at 1300 GMT and results are expected within 72 hours.
Former prime minister Edward Lowassa, 62, is the figurehead for Ukawa, a four-party opposition coalition challenging the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, from the words “party of the revolution” in Swahili), which has been in power for 54 years since independence.
Lowassa defected to the opposition in September after the CCM rejected his bid to succeed President Jakaya Kikwete, who may no longer run for office after serving two five-year terms.
Kikwete’s willingness to step down within the constitutional two-term limit stands in contrast to neighbouring Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza defied massive protests to contest elections and obtained a third term. Leaders in Congo and Rwanda have also been accused of seeking constitutional changes to extend their rule.
Seen as a candidate of the young urban middle class, Lowassa faces John Pombe Magufuli, 55, a minister of public works who has improved road infrastructure and tried to convince the electorate that his ageing party is still capable of reforms.
Magufuli focused his campaign on promises to fight corruption in a stab at Lowassa, who was forced to resign as prime minister in 2008 after being implicated in a corruption scandal.
There are six other candidates for the presidency.
Whoever becomes president may depend on a third force, the new party ACT-Wazalendo, to push policies through parliament, according to analysts.
The party was created in March by Zitto Kabwe, a popular young politician who says he follows the socialist principles of Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father and first president.
Regarded as one of the most democratic and stable countries on the continent, Tanzania registered economic growth rates of more than 7 per cent in 2013 and 2014, based mainly on construction, agriculture and transport.
But critics say little wealth has trickled down to the majority, with nearly 30 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
About 80 per cent of the workforce make a living from farming, most of them growing rain-fed crops on small plots.