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Tanzania opposition protests against electoral reforms

by Theophile

Thousands of people protested in Tanzania on Wednesday against proposed changes to electoral laws, in the largest public demonstration since the government lifted a ban on opposition political rallies a year ago.

The rally, in the economic capital Dar es Salaam, is the largest public demonstration since the government lifted a ban on opposition political protests a year ago. It was organised by Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, and comes as lawmakers prepare to debate three electoral bills that were tabled in parliament by the government.

Chadema has argued that there has not been enough consultation on the bills and is calling for the bills be withdrawn until this happens. “This is just the beginning,” Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe told protesters, warning the rallies would spread to other parts of the East African country until the government addressed their concerns.

Tanzania is scheduled to hold its first presidential election in 2025 since Samia Suluhu Hassan – the country forst woman leader – took power in 2021 following the death of president John Magufuli. While Magufuli, whose nickname was nickname “Bulldozer”, had been accused of stifling dissent after banning political rallies, Hassan has sought to strike a reformist political tone. A ban on opposition gatherings was overturned in January 2023. Shortly afterwards, prominent opposition figure Tundu Lissu returned to Tanzania after five years in exile.

Chadema’s Mbowe, who has spent time in prison under both leaders, says the proposed electoral reforms fail to address concerns over the last polls in 2020, when Magufuli won in a landslide despite claims of fraud. He call dubbed the proposals “cosmetic”, with particular opposition directed at a measure that would allow Hassan to directly appoint five of the 10 members of the electoral commission. Chadema wants greater independence for the electoral commission as well as constitutional reforms to be included in the bills, which will be debated in parliament next month.

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