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Tanzania president backs new Zanzibar polls


John MagufuliTanzanian President John Magufuli has backed an election re-run for Zanzibar despite an opposition boycott and international fears that a fresh poll could trigger violence.

Last year’s vote in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous islands was scrapped, but diplomats from 15 nations expressed concern that the election commission annulled it “without having provided evidence to substantiate its claim that irregularities had taken place”.

But Magufuli said polls were the best way to end the political crisis.

“There is no better way to solve the political impasse in Zanzibar than another round of the ballot box,” Magufuli said in a speech on Monday read to diplomats by Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga.

The October 25 vote, which was held across Tanzania, was annulled in Zanzibar after the Indian Ocean archipelago’s election commission reported violations of electoral law, claims dismissed by the opposition.

The annulment came after the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) candidate Seif Sharif Hamad declared himself the winner before the results were officially announced.

The CUF has said it would boycott a new election now planned for March 20.

“A political impasse or a non-participation in the elections does not auger well for the peace and stability of Zanzibar,” Magufuli said, adding that talks since November had failed to reach a deal.

Zanzibar has experienced sectarian and political tensions in recent years — including recent grenade explosions — with the unrest affecting the key tourist industry.

Last month envoys from 15 nations, including the European Union and the United States, said they believed the “political impasse in Zanzibar would be best addressed through a mutually acceptable and negotiated solution”.

The envoys, including former colonial rulers Britain and Germany, said they were “deeply concerned that the unilateral declaration of a re-run may lead to an escalation of intimidation and tensions”.

Zanzibar president Ali Mohamed Shein of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) — the same party as Magufuli — remains in power until the polls are held.

Magufuli appealed to the opposition to take part.

“Refusal to participate in the elections is to reject an olive branch for compromise from the government and recipe for protracted political antagonism in the next five years,” he said.

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