Thousands of chanting supporters gave a thunderous welcome to Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete as he turned out for his final campaign rally on the eve of elections he is expected to win.
His followers dressed in green and yellow T-shirts waved miniature ruling party flags, shouted slogans and chanted campaign songs, trying to compete with a giant sound system at a rally venue in the seaside economic capital.
The 60-year-old Kikwete, seeking a second and final term, received a rousing welcome at the venue, waving from a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles as the enthusiastic crowd surged forward.
“Our party will win. I have no doubt about that,” he told the crowd. “We began our campaign on the basis of our good record and we have fulfilled our pledges. We still have a long way to go but our objectives are very achievable.”
“There’s no better party in Tanzania than the CCM,” he went on, referring to his ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi [Revolution Party].
Kikwete called the opposition parties “a collection of bitter people who bandy around insults”.
“Why should you bother with photocopies while there is an original? CCM is the original party,” he told the crowd.
Kikwete has pledged to boost education, health and infrastructure in this East African country, where many live in poverty, depending mainly on subsistence agriculture.
However, his opponents have derided his pledges saying that under the ruling CCM Tanzanians have remained poor since independence in 1961.
“Fifty years ago CCM founders spoke about [eliminating] poverty. Fifty years on CCM is still speaking about it. Do you want to speak about poverty in 50 years time?” challenged a leader of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) during a rally on Thursday.
CUF presidential candidate Ibrahim Lipumba also criticised Kikwete’s pledges.
“In 2005 CCM made promises … during these campaigns Kikwete is not speaking about those unfulfilled pledges. He is making more promises,” Lipumba told a charged crowd at the same rally.
Tanzania has nonetheless enjoyed political stability, unlike its neighbours Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo that have been plagued by unrest.
Local media have described the run up to this year’s elections as the most vibrant since the country re-introduced multiparty politics in 1992.
Opposition parties also held final rallies in other regions of the vast country.
Kikwete is now facing five opposition candidates after a sixth withdrew at the last minute because his name was misspelled on the ballot, but none presents any critical challenge.
The CUF and another opposition party, Chadema, have also accused Kikwete’s party of planning to rig Sunday’s polls.
But Kikwete said on Friday it would be difficult to steal votes because all parties would be represented at every polling stations to ensure transparency.
The incumbent remains well ahead of his opponents in opinion polls this month, one of which suggested he would win with 71% and another with 61%.
On Tanznaia’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar island, where the race looks much closer, supporters of the two top presidential candidates also gathered for the last-day rallies.
Veteran opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad of the CUF and his ruling party rival Ali Mohamed Shein of the CCM are headed for a tight race for Zanzibar’s presidency.
Supporters of both candidates had already began decorating streets with their party colours and flags in anticipation of victory.
Zanzibar has repeatedly been rocked by political violence. In July it adopted a power-sharing constitution under which the poll winner and the runner up will form a unity government to avoid reccurrence of unrest.
The Indian Ocean archipelago, a famous tourist destination, consists of three islets of Unguja, Pemba and Mafia. The third falls under the mainland’s administration. – AFP