Tanzania votes — but opposition fears of foul play include printing of the ballots

Tanzanian President John Magufuli. (Photo: EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU) / Opposition leader Tundu Lissu. (Photo: Twitter)

Opposition parties in Tanzania have expressed worries that the country’s elections will be rigged — and they say the printing of the ballots could have had a hand in it.

Tanzanian voters are preparing to head to the polls tomorrow, but some in the opposition are already crying foul about the election process. Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, said there’s a concern that Tanzania’s National Electoral Commission might be trying to rig elections by keeping secret details of the contract for the printing of ballots.

Johannesburg-based Ren-Form CC has confirmed that it had printed and delivered the ballots in time for Tanzania’s elections, and sales manager JP du Sart has denied any irregularities. Printing ballots for elections is “a very sensitive, high-security project”, he said. “We received the contract and signed it aeons ago, and the ballot papers were already delivered at the beginning of October.”

He said the original contract stipulated 99 million ballots for Tanzania’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections, all taking place simultaneously, but fewer might have been delivered. “The quantities dropped based on delimitation as well as uncontested constituencies,” he said. Tanzania has just over 29 million registered voters. 

Ren-Form had completed more than 60 million ballot paper projects in 22 African countries, Du Sart said, and it had also printed ballot papers used in “every single election since 2004” in South Africa. “Because of the high security risk, tracking is critical. We need to know which ballot paper went to where in the country in case of allegations of fraud,” Du Sart said.

Kabwe, however, said: “The concern is more about the secrecy with the procurement process and we are worried that the company works with state agencies to rig the election.”

Tanzania’s The Citizen reported earlier in October that John John Mnyika, secretary-general of the biggest opposition party, Chama Chama Cha Demokrasia (Chadema), demanded that the electoral body disclose the name of the company contracted to produce the ballot papers. He also asked for the Voters Permanent Register to be made available to political parties and for the introduction of a results management system.

Despite reports a few months before that Ren-Form CC had been contracted to prepare and supply ballot papers, there were reports in local media that Dar es Salaam-based Jamana Printers did the job instead. They allege that some executives of this company are members of the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party.

“We need assurance to satisfy ourselves with the safety of the ballot papers,” Mnyika was reported to have told reporters. 

The electoral body’s director of elections, Wilson Mahera, confirmed in a statement that Ren-Form CC was awarded the tender over Kenyan company Ellams Products Limited and Dubai-based Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing LLC.

“Therefore, Jamana Printers which is a company referred [to] in fabricated reports didn’t participate at all in the process,” Mahera said. 

Kabwe, however, said his fear is that the excess ballot papers could be used to rig the elections. He said there would be more than 10 million ballot papers left, even if turnout was 100%, but that was highly unlikely.

“Sixty-five percent of the people went to vote in the last election, which was more exciting than these elections,” he said, referring to the fact that former president Jakaya Kikwete’s two-term limit had been reached by the previous elections. Tomorrow’s elections are expected to be a race between President John Magufuli, who has all the advantages of incumbency, and opposition candidate Tundu Lissu, from Chadema, who returned to Tanzania in July after three years in exile

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Kabwe expects tomorrow’s turnout to be closer to the 40% it was in 2010, when the incumbent, Kikwete, was defending his seat.

“What we know from the sources is that some ballot papers will be ticked before the election and will be stuffed in boxes, and that’s the biggest worry we are having,” he said. The opposition also fears that their polling agents will not be allowed to represent their parties at polling stations.

“We have to ensure that as many people as possible will go to vote and that these people will defend their votes,” he said.

Election experts, however, say that printing 10% more ballot papers than there are registered voters is standard practice to ensure that there are enough papers at polling stations. But it could also be used to cheat, and that is why there should be other checks and balances. 

Executive chairman of the Institute of Election Management Services in Africa, Terry Tselane, said: “If more ballot papers are produced and re-marked, that would favour one candidate against the other. The production and security of ballot papers is therefore quite critical.” He said there should be “a certain level of transparency”, such as informing political parties about the number of ballot papers being produced and the companies that produce them. 

Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and author of How to Rig an Election, Nic Cheeseman, said “the number of ballot papers is less significant than whether we see unrealistic turnout. And you don’t need excess ballot papers to ‘vote’ for people who didn’t show up. So I don’t think this should be the main thing that the opposition and donors focus on.”

The high number of registered voters has, however, raised concern among some government critics. Lawyer and outspoken critic Fatma Karume has questioned the relatively high voter registration numbers, which totals 52% of the country’s total population of 55 million. She said there had been a number of social media complaints about issues with registration, such as double registration, incorrect registration or registration of people born in the future.

Magufuli has an authoritarian style and although he was initially revered as a no-nonsense president, his tenure has increasingly been characterised by a crackdown on opposition parties, the media and some non-government organisations. He has also declared that Tanzanians have nothing to fear from Covid-19.

Former Tanzanian intelligence officer Evarist Chahali has alleged that Lissu has enough support to win in a free and fair election, but that the governing party and the intelligence agencies would not allow that to happen.

“Tanzania’s political opposition, which has united recently, as well as our citizens who are demanding change, should be prepared to exercise their rights and demand an end to these serial election frauds,” he wrote. 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in a statement on Tuesday, called on those involved in the elections to ensure that “the polls are conducted in an inclusive and peaceful manner”. He also called on authorities to “provide a safe and secure environment, which will allow Tanzanians to exercise their civil and political rights”. DM


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