Tanzania’s parliament has been dissolved ahead of elections due in October, with President John Magufuli pledging a “free and fair” vote in a country where the opposition has decried a climate of fear and violence.
Magufuli, who took office in 2015 promising a crackdown on corruption but whose time in office has drawn criticism by rights groups, urged all political parties to “avoid insults and violence” while campaigning.
The constitution requires that the 393-seat legislature be dissolved ahead of the elections. The vote is scheduled for October but the precise date has not yet been set.
“I want to assure everyone that the elections will be free and fair, for all political parties,” Magufuli, who is expected to seek a second five-year term, said in an address to legislators.
The dissolution comes just days after Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe, who has announced his intention to run against Magufuli, was allegedly beaten and hospitalised in what his Chadema party said was a “politically-motivated” attack.
The European Union mission in the country denounced the alleged assault as an “attack against democracy” while the US and British embassies also expressed concern.
Tanzanian police have cast doubt on the allegations.
Chadema says attacks against the party and its supporters have risen sharply under Magufuli, whose administration has been accused by rights groups of eroding democratic freedoms.
The government has denied seeking to stifle dissent.
Chadema and other opposition parties including Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo) have called for an independent monitor to oversee the elections, warning they will not be free otherwise.
“The current setup of the electoral commission does not guarantee free polls, as it favours the ruling party. The chairman and some other officials are appointed by the president, who is the ruling party leader,” said ACT Wazalendo chairman Seif Sharif Hamad.
In November, the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party won more than 99 percent of seats in local elections boycotted by the opposition over allegations of government interference. The government denied foul play.
Separately on Tuesday, Magufuli also announced that schools across Tanzania would reopen on June 29, saying the threat of coronavirus had diminished.
Universities already reopened on June 1, despite complaints from some students that they might be at risk of infection.
Tanzania is one of the few countries in Africa that has not taken extensive measures against the virus.
Magufuli has played down the seriousness of the pandemic, and the country stopped providing updated information about its cases in April.
In late May, the government summoned the top official at the US embassy to object to an advisory that warned of “exponential growth” of COVID-19 cases.
The foreign ministry said the claim was “not true and could cause panic among Tanzanians and foreigners”.
It came after several opposition leaders and activists accused the government of failing to inform the public on the extent of the disease’s outbreak and covering up the true number of fatalities.