Thousands protest in Tanzania as opposition seeks amended electoral reforms

The opposition is seeking constitutional reforms and more independence for the electoral commission ahead of the vote.

Freeman Mbowe
Freeman Mbowe, chairman of Tanzania's main opposition party, Chadema [Michael Jamson/AFP]

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 in January 2023.

Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, organised the rally in the main city of Dar es Salaam as lawmakers prepare for next month’s debate on a raft of contentious electoral reforms proposed by the government.

“This is just the beginning,” Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe promised the crowd, adding that protests would spread from Tanzania’s economic capital to other parts of the country until the government responded to its concerns.

He was speaking to supporters who wore the red, white and blue colours of the Chadema party and chanted songs. Protesters carried placards stating their main demands: withdraw controversial electoral bills, address soaring living costs, and ensure independent oversight for the 2024 local government elections.

The march garnered attention from onlookers and residents, symbolising a collective call for change.

Nassor Ali, a resident of the impoverished Buguruni neighbourhood, expressed support for the cause by saying, “I am not a member of Chadema, but I support the cause they are fighting for, which is why I decided to join them.”

Seeking reforms

Tanzania is scheduled to hold its first presidential election in 2025 since the death of President John Magufuli in March 2021 led to his deputy, Samia Suluhu Hassan, becoming leader of the East African country.

Mbowe, who has spent time in prison under both leaders, said the proposals did not address concerns over the last election in 2020, which Magufuli won in a landslide despite opposition claims of fraud.

Chadema has been campaigning for constitutional reforms and greater independence for the electoral commission to be included in the legislation to be debated by lawmakers in February.

Mbowe called the proposals “cosmetic” and particular opposition has been directed at a measure that would allow Hassan to directly appoint five of the 10 members of the electoral commission.

“We want to tell the government to withdraw the bills, which basically intend to protect the ruling party,” opposition activist Mdude Nyagali said at the rally.

Since Hassan’s ascension to power, she has sought to reverse some of the more hardline policies of her predecessor Magufuli, whose strongman tendencies earned him the nickname “Bulldozer”.

Even within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, Hassan reinstated several party members who were dismissed by her predecessor. After she overturned the ban on opposition gatherings in January 2023, Tundu Lissu, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, returned from a four-year exile.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies