A leading opposition presidential candidate in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago has been arrested as tension rose in the spicy islands ahead of Wednesday’s general elections.
Seif Sharif Hamad, 77, was detained by police this morning when he defied the authorities by showing up at a voting station to cast his ballot, ahead of the official voting date, his party said.
Salim Bimani, the publicity and communications secretary of the opposition’s ACT-Wazalendo, said Hamad was arrested this morning and being detained at the Ziwani police headquarters.
Hamad, the party’s national chairman, had reportedly vowed to cast his vote in a disputed advance voting day, to pre-empt what his party described as rigging attempts planned by the ruling establishment.
Zanzibar, previously hit by post-election violence in 2001 when more than 35 people perished, is — along with mainland Tanzania — holding elections for president, legislators, and councillors.
Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) had designated Oct. 27 as voting day for special groups, including soldiers. The new arrangement, however, triggered criticism among members of the opposition who accused the electoral body of attempting to rig the elections in favor of 53-year-old Hussein Mwinyi, who runs on the ticket of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
Confirmed reports suggest that around three people are killed and dozens injured during confrontation between security forces and opposition supporters determined to avert alleged attempts by the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to rig the polls.
Videos circulating on social media show people suspected killed and others seriously injured by armed troops on the Pemba Island, the stronghold of the opposition.
“I am informed that people are being shot in Zanzibar by police and other security forces this night. People are resisting against election rigging. Resistance will continue. No going back. The blood of the people killed will nourish freedom trees,” said Zitto Kabwe, a leader of the ACT-Wazalendo.
According to the statement issued Tuesday by the party, three people have been shot dead and nine others injured in confrontation with police in Pemba, where the citizens allegedly seeking to prevent ballot boxes stuffed with pre-marked papers from being transferred to the polling stations.
“We condemn the unlawful and murderous act committed by the police against the citizens they’re supposed to protect,” the statement warned.
The party named those killed at the Kigangani village in Pemba as 33-year-old Asha Haji, Yussuf Muhiddin (27), and Kombo Salum (30).
According to the party, the injured could not be taken to hospitals because all roads leading to health facilities in Chake Chake had been blocked by heavy security.
Violence rocked Tanzania’s Zanzibar island, following clashes involving security forces and opposition supporters.
– 5th attempt for presidency
Hamad, who joined the ACT-Wazalendo party in March 2019, had previously contested for Zanzibar presidency five times under the Civic United Front party.
Juman Saidi Hamisi, the commissioner of police in Pemba, confirmed that the police had been forced to use teargas to disperse islanders who had been gathering in the polling stations since Monday night.
“They were planning to unlawfully cast their votes despite the fact that they were not authorized to take part in today’s voting exercise.”
Meanwhile the US has strongly condemned the wave of violence in Zanzibar, urging security forces to show restraint while calling for ZEC officials to carry out their duties with integrity.
“I am alarmed by reports in Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths and detentions. It is not too late to prevent more bloodshed,” tweeted Donald Wright, the US ambassador to Tanzania. – Online ■