Tanzania votes but 'widespread irregularities' are claimed

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The ruling party CCM presidential candidate Dr. John Magufuli, stands in line to cast his vote at Chamwino in Dodoma Wednesday. Oct. 28, 2020. The populist Magufuli, who made his name in part by targeting corruption, now seeks a second five-year term in one of Africa's most populous and fastest-growing economies. (AP Photo)

NAIROBI – Tanzania's presidential election saw “widespread irregularities," the leading opposition candidate alleged Wednesday amid a massive internet slowdown, while some observers said the once-peaceful country likely faces five more years of repressive rule.

Results declared by the electoral commission cannot be challenged in court, bringing urgency to vote-monitoring efforts, but the opposition said observers were turned away from scores of polling stations. Some major independent observers like the European Union were not invited or barred, unlike in previous elections.

“Mass democratic action will be the only option to protect the integrity of the election,” said top opposition candidate Tundu Lissu with the CHADEMA party. The survivor of an assassination attempt in 2017, he returned from exile this year to challenge populist President John Magufuli, who seeks a second term.

The other major opposition party, ACT Wazalendo, which reported deadly violence ahead of the vote, said its polling agents witnessed ballot box-snatching by security agents, ballot box-stuffing and voters turned away by authorities who said ballots had run out.

In the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, “a man appeared with a dead man’s ID. The dead man’s son, however, was present in the polling station as an ACT Wazalendo agent,” the party alleged in a statement. “The agent was ejected from the polling station and the man allowed to vote.”

“It's the worst election in Tanzania's history,” an exhausted Ismail Jussa, an ACT Wazalendo official, told The Associated Press. He said police ordered him out when he tried to witness vote-counting, then saw tanks in the streets while driving to party offices.

Considering Magufuli's ban on opposition political gatherings in 2016, the disqualification of some opposition candidates and other harassment ahead of the vote, “I thought (the ruling party) would leave today to go smoothly to give credit for themselves,” Jussa said.

Even before dawn, some claimed intimidation. “My life is in danger,” the CHADEMA party chairman, Freeman Mbowe, tweeted, later sharing surveillance video he said showed an armed local official outside his hotel.