DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete dismissed opposition accusations on Wednesday that his CCM party planned to rig a presidential vote next week and warned against violence ahead of the Oct. 25 elections.
Addressing a rally in the administrative capital Dodoma, Kikwete accused the opposition of stoking unrest before the parallel presidential, parliamentary and local government polls.
“Anyone who participates in violence during the elections will be dealt with,” said Kikwete. “Our security forces will ensure that the elections are peaceful ... we will never allow our democracy to be kidnapped.”
Kikwete cannot run after serving two terms in office but the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party’s John Magufuli leads in opinion polls ahead of what is expected to the closest presidential race since Tanzania became independent in 1961.
The main opposition parties have for the first time united behind one presidential candidate, former prime minister Edward Lowassa, whose rallies have drawn thousands of supporters across the East African country.
Lowassa switched to become the opposition coalition’s contender after failing to win the CCM’s candidacy last month. The 62-year-old quit as premier in 2008 over corruption allegations that he denies.
Some 22.6 million Tanzanians are registered to vote out of a total population of 47 million.
Kikwete rejected accusations that the ruling party, in power for almost four decades, planned to rig the vote.
“This is just a plot by the opposition to cause violence and prevent other people from voting. We are aware of their plot and they shall not succeed,” he said.
Opposition parties have accused the CCM of vote-rigging in previous elections, which the party denies.
Tumaini Makene, spokesman for the main opposition party CHADEMA told Reuters on Wednesday: “There is historical evidence that CCM has been supported by the government machinery to rig previous elections.”
“Public statements made by CCM leaders in this election also clearly indicate that the vote will be stolen,” he added, without elaborating.
The head of Tanzania’s electoral body has pledged that the vote will be free and fair, and has rejected calls by opposition leaders for supporters to stand outside polling stations and “guard” the votes until the results are announced.
The electoral body has ordered voters to disperse after casting their votes, saying each party will be allowed to post one agent inside every polling station to oversee vote counting.
Tanzanian elections have been relatively peaceful since the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1995, but some analysts warn there is a risk of violence in some areas around next week’s polls.
“The opposition’s fuelling of widespread fears of vote-rigging has increased the probability of violence, but this is likely to be limited to pockets of the country, particularly urban areas,” said Ahmed Salim, senior associate at consultancy Teneo Intelligence in a note to clients.
Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Catherine Evans