Large turnout in presidential elections

Tanzanians turned out massively on Wednesday to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, the third since the adoption of multiparty politics in 1992.

The chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Lewis Makame, said voting had been largely peaceful and smooth since polling stations opened at 0700. Polling is due to close at 1600.

"I am happy that the whole exercise has moved smoothly as planned," he added.

Police on the mainland have not reported any serious incidents so far.

Some 16 million registered voters will be choosing from a field of 10 presidential hopefuls and candidates of the 18 parties vying for 232 parliamentary seats. The constitution allows the president to nominate 10 legislators.

The opposition parties are up against the Chama Cha Mapinduzi-CCM (or Revolutionary Party) that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1961. It seems set to retain power. However, the opposition is banking on gaining some 100 parliamentary seats; almost double that of the 2000 elections, to erode the CCM's seemingly overwhelming dominance.

NEC said partial results were expected Thursday or Friday, with final results due four to five days from now. These elections were initially due on 30 October but were postponed following the death of a running mate of one of the presidential hopefuls.

Zanzibar Island

On the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar voting was less smooth. Police from the Tanzanian union fired into the air to disperse protesters who tried to stop people from other constituencies voting in their area. In Stone Town, capital of Zanzibar, a 27-year old man opposing the intrusion of these outsider voters was stabbed by a member of the Janjaweed, allegedly a pro-government gang.

Apart from the union security and defence forces based in Zanzibar, the archipelago has its own security forces, known as the Vikosi, who are widely blamed for human rights abuses. The Zanzibar chapter of the CCM has been accused of using the Vikosi to recruit hundreds of Janjaweed members to intimidate the political opposition. The CCM has repeatedly denied the allegation.

The assistant commissioner of police (ACP) for Zanzibar North region, Kheir Khamis, said the confrontation between the Vikosi and others occurred mainly on Tuesday. "Apart from shooting in air, and a few people who sustained injuries, there was no serious casualty," he said.

His Urban-West region counterpart, ACP George Kizuguto, said: "I have just received the reports; I have to clarify and study the cause of the confrontation."

Many voters also claimed in Stone Town that the ink used to identify those who had voted was not indelible. They also spoke of party agents being denied permission to verify voters' cards. NEC Director Rajabu Kiravu said the commission would investigate the claims.

"However," he added, "I do not believe in the report that the ink is easily erasable."