Zanzibar: Opposition claims 9 killed, leader held ahead of polls

ACT-Wazalendo party says its candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, released after brief detention amid unrest in the semi-autonomous archipelago.

Police feared tear gas to disperse opposition supporters before arresting Hamad [Patrick Meinhardt/AFP]

An opposition presidential candidate in Zanzibar detained as he attempted to cast his ballot in advanced voting has been freed, after nine people were shot dead by security forces on the eve of elections in the semi-autonomous archipelago and mainland Tanzania, according to his party.

The ACT-Wazalendo party said in a statement on Tuesday that its candidate for Zanzibar’s presidency, Seif Sharif Hamad, was detained at a polling station after going to vote early. The party tweeted later in the day that their leader had been released.

It also said nine people had been shot dead by security forces since Monday. Eight died on the island of Pemba, it said, after clashes between security forces and people who had been trying to stop the army distributing ballot boxes on Monday which they suspected contained pre-ticked votes.

ACT-Wazalendo said police fired tear gas at the demonstrators and then “resorted to live ammunition”. Tanzanian police chief Simon Sirro told reporters some youths had been arrested in the incident. “Yesterday … there were youths who started violence when we were offloading ballot boxes; they started throwing stones,” he said on Tuesday.

Police said they had no information about any deaths.

A former first vice president for Zanzibar, Hamad has previously run unsuccessfully for the archipelago’s top job since 1995.

He is seen as the main challenger against front-running Hussein Ali Mwinyi, of Tanzania’s ruling CCM party. Hamad argues every vote has been stolen from him since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1995, and foreign observers have often agreed.

On the mainland, Tanzanian President John Magufuli, whose government is accused of muzzling political dissent and independent media – accusations officials deny – is widely expected to win over his main rival, Tundu Lissu, and secure another five-year term.

On the eve of the election, some Tanzanians reported disruptions when trying to access social media platforms – accounts confirmed by Twitter and Internet blockage monitor NetBlocks, which reported widespread problems.

The opposition supported claim ballot papers have been pre-marked [Patrick Meinhardt/AFP]

Sectarian and political tensions in Zanzibar – with a cosmopolitan population of Arabs, Asians and Africans – are more marked than on the mainland.

The archipelago joined with then-Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964, and Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has been in power ever since.

“The colonisers [mainland] have oppressed us enough, so take this election very seriously … we are ready to die for Zanzibar,” the 77-year-old Hamad told supporters during his final campaign rally on Sunday.

In January 2001, at least 30 people were killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters after a disputed election.

Polls in 2005 were also marred by clashes.

A political deal allowing for more power-sharing led to peaceful elections in 2010, but divisions quickly returned and in 2015, the head of the electoral commission cancelled the vote outright.

In 2016, the opposition boycotted the rerun and the CCM party was declared the victor.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies