(Reuters) – Three weeks before elections, the Tanzanian government is getting scared and will do all in its power to stop the opposition, according to Tundu Lissu, a presidential hopeful whose convoy was teargassed by police last week.
“It is getting harder. It is getting hotter. We expected this,” Lissu, from the main opposition Chadema party, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Chadema says its party offices in Arusha in northern Tanzania were firebombed. Meanwhile, dozens of opposition parliamentary candidates were disqualified from running in the elections for president and members of parliament on Oct. 28.
“The regime is getting scared and therefore they are pulling out all the stops, using all instruments of power in their capacity to fight my campaign,” said Lissu.
Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said that elections are under the purview of the National Electoral Commission when Reuters contacted him for comment.
Some iteration of Tanzania’s CCM party has held power since independence in 1961, and President John Magufuli is widely expected to win a second term, tightening his grip on East Africa’s third-largest economy.
However, CCM’s percentage of the presidential vote has slightly declined over the past two elections.
Last month U.S. ambassador to Tanzania Donald Wright tweeted his concerns about “politically motivated violence and the overall increase in tensions as we get closer to Tanzania’s elections.”
International watchdogs like Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have warned that repression of the opposition, activist groups, and the media has increased.
The government has previously denied clamping down on dissent.
Lissu returned in July after three years in exile following an unsolved 2017 assassination attempt. He was shot 16 times but survived.
Police said they teargassed Lissu’s campaign convoy after unidentified people threw stones at them. They also said they had arrested opposition activists in one case, after Chadema offices were firebombed.
Last Friday, the ethics committee of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) suspended Lissu from campaigning for a week for using incendiary language.
The NEC has also upheld the disqualification of 39 parliamentary candidates who were initially disqualified and reinstated 67 others.
The opposition says the disqualifications are an attempt to boost the ruling party, an accusation the commission rejects.
“Why should the commission disqualify you if you meet all the criteria? It is not true,” said Emmanuel Kawishe, the commission’s legal services director.
Magufuli – nicknamed “The Bulldozer” – won the presidency in 2015, promising to fight corruption and build infrastructure.
Pictures of his wife being treated in a public hospital shortly after he was elected instead of being flown abroad for treatment helped boost his popularity.
But he has also clamped down on dissent. His government banned public rallies in 2016, and at least 10 Tanzanian media outlets have been banned for periods ranging from one week to indefinitely between January 2016 and July 2020, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
That means the opposition has effectively been muzzled for several years, although now they are able to campaign, said Nicodemus Minde, a researcher on Tanzania at Nairobi’s United States International University.
The media is wary of covering the campaign however, said political analyst Aikande Kwayu, as the Media Services Act of 2016 and the Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations are vague and are used to punish the media.
“This has made the media cautious in covering the campaign and scared to portray the ruling party in a negative light,” she said.