Mainland Tanzania and the semi-autonomous Zanzibar are due to hold elections for president, legislators and local officials on Wednesday.
Incumbent President John Magufuli is seeking re-election on the mainland among a crowded field of 15 contenders. He is the candidate of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, which has uninterruptedly governed Tanzania – along with its predecessor, the Tanzania African National Union party (TANU) – since independence in 1961.
More than 29 million people have registered to cast their ballots. Polling stations are due to open at 7am (04:00 GMT) and close at 4pm (01:00 GMT).
In the run-up to the polls, opposition parties complained of threats and repression as the election commission disqualified dozens of opposition parliamentary candidates, while rights groups accused the government of curtailing free expression and press freedom. The government has previously rejected such accusations.
Voting will also be held in the semi-autonomous Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, which has a history of contested polls and post-election violence.
Magufuli, 60, is seeking a second and final five-year term in office. While opinion polls have been banned, making it difficult to predict the outcome, many analysts see Magufuli as having strong chances of winning re-election.
A former minister of public works nicknamed “The Bulldozer” by his supporters for his no-nonsense approach and his ability to get things done, Magufuli has pledged to continue the fight against corruption and wasteful spending of public money. On the campaign trail, he has also touted his government’s record on improving the country’s infrastructure.
Throughout his presidency, Magufuli has spent much of his time touring Tanzania and meeting citizens. He has even gained something of a reputation for resolving voters’ grievances on the spot while on tour, often issuing orders to local government representatives live on camera at roadside meet and greets.
Critics, however, accuse him of narrowing democratic space and stifling dissent since his election win in 2015, including by barring opposition parties from holding most public gatherings.
The president has also drawn international attention for declaring the country of almost 60 million people coronavirus-free, saying prayers had helped eliminate COVID-19. The government has not released any coronavirus figures since April.
Coverage of Wednesday’s election will be restricted after the government amended laws to require international radio and television broadcasters to have licenced local partners to get the regulatory body’s permission to air content, Amnesty International has said.
Magufuli was born in Chato district on the shores of Lake Victoria, where in 1995 he was elected to parliament to represent the area. A father of five, he is a devout Catholic who often likes singing in church choirs.
A staunch critic of Magufuli, Tundu Lissu is the candidate for the main opposition party Chadema.
The 52-year-old’s hopes of causing an upset were boosted after his recent endorsement by leaders of the ACT-Wazalendo party, in what has been dubbed as a “loose” coalition between the country’s two leading opposition parties.
In 2017, Lissu survived an assassination attempt in the administrative capital, Dodoma, when he was shot 16 times by unknown attackers. He spent nearly three years in exile, first in neighbouring Kenya and then Belgium, where he underwent more than a dozen surgeries.
A lawyer by training and a fan of reggae music, Lissu entered politics in 2010, winning a parliamentary seat to represent his home region of Singida East. Over the years, he developed a strong reputation as a fierce government critic and became the chief whip of Chadema.
Earlier this month, Lissu told Al Jazeera that the opposition was “not going to accept stolen elections”.
“We will call millions of our people onto the streets who will take mass democratic and peaceful action to defend the integrity of the election, to defend their voice – if it comes to that,” he said.
Other presidential challengers include former Foreign Minister Bernard Membe and economist-turned-politician Ibrahim Lipumba.
Zanzibar, where some 566,000 people have registered to take part in the polls, wrapped up its election campaigns on Sunday.
The archipelago has been governed by the CCM since it joined with then-Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964.
President Ali Mohamed Shein is stepping down after serving two terms in office. Hussein Ali Hassan Mwinyi, son of former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, is the candidate of the governing party.
He will face opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad, who is attempting for the sixth time to take office following the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1995. Hamad alleges that every vote was stolen from him.
As part of the main opposition parties’ informal collaboration, Chadema chair Freeman Mbowe said earlier this month that his party would withdraw its presidential candidate in Zanzibar and back Hamad, of ACT-Wazalendo, which seeks a new constitution that would grant the archipelago “a full autonomy”.
Zanzibar has a history of tense elections and violence. On Sunday, the ACT-Wazalendo’s campaign manager said he had been seized and threatened by armed men, while a parliamentary candidate went missing.