Dar es Salaam/Zanzibar. Zanzibar was thrown into a political crisis yesterday following the unprecedented decision by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) to cancel the Isles elections.
The surprise announcement by ZEC chairman Jecha Salum Jecha affects both the Zanzibar and House of Representatives elections.
Mr Jecha, who spoke through State radio, said he was cancelling the results of the October 25 elections because of irregularities, including Monday’s decision by opposition candidate Seif Shariff Hamad to declare himself the winner over the incumbent, Dr Ali Mohammed Shein.
Mr Jecha said other anomalies included votes that exceeded the number of registered voters, compromised returning officers and voter intimidation in political parties’ strongholds.
He made the announcement following a night of drama on Tuesday when soldiers took over the Bwawani Hotel where the vote tallying for the presidential votes was being conducted.
The soldiers reportedly locked out election observers and journalists from the centre as the commission was in the final stages of vote tallying.
Mr Jecha and his director of elections, Mr Salim Kassim Ali, had not since last night been seen at the tallying centre before the shock announcement on radio.
However, reactions to the move that caught many players by surprise was fast, with the main opposition party, Civic United Front (CUF) fronted by Mr Hamad dismissing it as illegal and not backed by any sensible explanation.
Mr Hamad demanded that ZEC proceed with the final step of announcing who won the elections as his party would not back what he said was a unilateral decision by the chairman under influence from the government (see separate story on this page).
The United States also waded in the saga, saying it had been alarmed by the cancellation but urged that ZEC continues with the current process to its logical conclusion. (see separate story on this page).
There was a huge debate on social media as soon as the news broke out, with lawyers and political analysts offering legal interpretation of the consequences of cancelling the elections.
“This is going to draw a lot of constitutional controversy in the Union elections. I don’t want to go into the details but the reasons cited by ZEC for nullifying the elections did not justify the drastic shift.
“We are trying to reach the Commissioners in Zanzibar to try and find out what exactly happened,” the chairman of the Tanzania Constitution Forum, Mr Deus Kibamba, told The Citizen.
The move also created a buzz on the Mainland where vote tallying was ongoing for the presidential election in which CCM’s John Magufuli was battling it out with Chadema’s Edward Lowassa.
The Lowassa team that learnt of the Zanzibar crisis in the middle of their own press conference to dispute the tallies that were being announced by NEC, said because ZEC was NEC’s agent for the Union presidential votes in the Isles, the cancellation meant their own race would also be in dispute (Story on Page 3).
It was not immediately clear when ZEC would order repeat elections as the short statement released by Mr Jecha did not give an indication.
Mr Hamad suggested in his reaction that the ZEC chairman does not have the powers to cancel elections without consulting fellow commissioners, including those that represent them.
The Zanzibar Constitution stipulates that a General Election be held to choose a new president in a five year election cycle within 30 to 60 days before expiry of the term of the incumbent president.
With the swearing in of Dr Shein in early November 2010 for his first term, his full cycle is therefore at its tail end to meet this requirement.
The same constitution says that the President shall hold office until a successor president takes oath of office.
The legal provision that no court shall have jurisdiction to inquire into anything done by ZEC in the performance of its functions could complicate matters further should parties move to challenge Mr Jecha’s decision.