Tanzania Opposition Bet on Ex-Premier Pays Off in Parliament

  • Ruling party wins presidency, retains majority in parliament
  • Opposition poised to get more parliamantary seats than before

For Tanzania’s opposition, the end justified the means.

In a bid to win the presidency for the first time in the nation’s post-colonial history, it chose as its candidate Edward Lowassa, a divisive figure forced to quit as prime minister seven years ago amid corruption allegations and who failed to secure the ruling party’s nomination. While the opposition Chadema party and its allies didn’t capture state house, it won more seats in parliament than it’s ever done.

That will give opponents of President-elect John Magufuli’s incoming administration a stronger voice in parliamentary committees, where policy and law formulation starts, at a time when Africa’s third-biggest gold producer is looking to diversify into natural-gas exports.

The election was “a high-risk, high-reward game for the opposition,” Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst at Teneo Intelligence, said by phone on Monday. “The Lowassa push definitely helped the opposition to secure more parliamentary seats.”

Parliament Seats

Lowassa, 62, lost the Oct. 25 presidential election after obtaining 39.9 percent of the votes cast, according to the National Electoral Commission. Magufuli won with 58.4 percent. Preliminary results of 220 of 264 elective seats in parliament show the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi has 152 seats so far, while the opposition has 68, its biggest share of the 359-seat National Assembly, according to a tally posted on the website of the Dar es Salaam-based Citizen newspaper.

While the opposition “appeared to compromise its principles” in selecting Lowassa as its candidate, the gains provide a platform from which it can contest future elections, said Chris McKeon, Africa analyst at Bath, England-based risk advisory group Verisk Maplecroft.

Lowassa, who has yet to accept the results, quit the CCM in July after the party chose Magufuli, 56, as its candidate. His defection encouraged other high-profile members to leave, including Fredrick Sumaye, who served as premier from 1995 to 2005. It also led to the resignation of key members of Chadema including Wilbrod Slaa, its presidential candidate in the 2010 election, and retirement of Civic United Front leader Ibrahim Lipumba. 

Gas Revenue

Magufuli also faces the challenge of dealing with opposition gains in key seats previously held by the CCM, such as Lindi, near recently discovered gas fields in southeastern Tanzania, said McKeon.

The opposition’s success in the south-east “is founded on the belief that natural gas revenue will not benefit the local community, but will instead be diverted to Dar es Salaam,” McKeon said. “Magufuli will have to ensure that at least some gas revenues are invested in the south-east if he is to win back the region for CCM.”

Tanzania is looking to diversify its $49 billion, mostly agrarian economy, into production of the fuel, with an estimated 55 trillion cubic feet of reserves that are the biggest in East Africa after Mozambique. Statoil ASA, based in Stavanger, Norway, and the U.K.’s BG Group Plc may build the nation’s first liquefied natural gas plant at an estimated cost of $15 billion. The International Monetary Fund projects East Africa’s biggest economy after Kenya will expand by 7 percent this year.

The most significant factor in the opposition coalition’s parliamentary success was the agreement to field joint candidates in most constituencies, according to McKeon. “This allowed them to capitalize on public frustration with CCM without splitting the opposition vote between several candidates,” he said.

The government also faces a developing crisis in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago that forms a union government with Tanzania. The electoral authorities last week annulled the election after the opposition Civic United Front claimed its candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, had won the presidential election. If confirmed, the victory would be the first by an opposition candidate since 1977.

“The election outcome was a clear warning shot by the Tanzanian electorate to CCM and for that reason we are unlikely to see any honeymoon period for the incoming Magufuli administration,” Salim said.

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