The ZEC chairman nullified an orderly peaceful election as observed by officials from the US, European Union, Commonwealth, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Many international observers were impressed by the quality of the electoral process they witnessed and called on ZEC to resume the tabulation of the results without delay.
In their subsequent reports issued following the election, the international observers noted that the election was largely free and fair, and they all raised concerns over the subsequent annulment. At the time of annulment, the results of 31 constituencies out of 51 were already tallied and announced. Some of the winners had already been provided with certificates to authenticate their victories.
Strangely enough, only the Zanzibar election involving the presidential, Members of the House of Representatives and civic posts was annulled while that of the Union presidential, Members of Parliament and civic seats was approved although all were conducted on the same day and under similar electoral bodies.
The move to annul the Zanzibar free and fair election and the forced unconstitutional rerun has since plunged Zanzibar into a political and a constitutional crisis ever seen.
In November, a dialogue between two main rival parties of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and CUF started in the Islands. Since then Zanzibaris have been oblivious on the leadership and the formation of a new government in their country.
On January 12, 2016, during the celebration of the 52th anniversary of the Zanzibar Revolution, when no agreement had been reached, incumbent President Ali Mohammed Shein announced unilaterally on the rerun of the election in Zanzibar.
Under the banner of Zanzibar national unity and regardless of one’s political affiliation, religion, ethnicity or gender; the nullification and potential rerun of the election in the Isles are not only illegal, unconstitutional and unfair, but also unpopular.
The current crisis in Zanzibar is an issue that concerns and involves Tanzania as a whole. It puts the country at risk of social instability as citizens engaged in the democratic process, might invest in other ways to defend their rights.
The current situation, where almost half of Zanzibaris believe that Dr. Shein is not supposed to be in power, will result into instability and uncertainty in the lives of ordinary citizens.
Ordinary people will be affected in many ways including economically, as the political stalemate has worried investors and it is unlikely that many serious investors will come to Zanzibar under the prevailing situation.
They will also suffer in the tourism industry, for tourists will not come to Zanzibar in such a state where they are not assured of their peaceful stay.
And the political situation might cause a prolonged period of economic difficulties.
A number of foreign countries have expressed discontent over the poll cancellation. This will subject the country into diplomatic problems. It will put on hold the relationship between Zanzibar and other countries, as well as its development partners that could severely affect development assistance to Zanzibar.
A substantial number of Zanzibaris feel they have been denied of their right to choose leaders of their choice. This might make them lose trust in their government.
They will also lose faith in the democratic process, creating potential uprising of alternative methods to achieve rights which might result into violence.
What should be done?
The basic thing to be done is respect for fundamental principles of multiparty democracy and constitutionalism. Believers of a democratic choice are deeply concerned that the election in Zanzibar has been used as platform for dividing citizens instead of uniting them.
It is important that leaders consider an election as a process for achieving social harmony and development for the people. Long-term efforts have been put in place to ensure the building of a reconciliation process – whose foundation lays in sharing power between parties through a Government of National Unity.
These efforts received a strong popular support in Zanzibar in 2010, and contributed to democratic transition and stability in Tanzania. Thus they should neither be weakened nor annihilated by the current crisis.
They should also acknowledge changes that affect the political landscape in Tanzania where today the Opposition has gained support and legitimacy among the citizens. This shift should not be seen as a threat.
Moreover, the Zanzibar GNU ensures the sharing of power between the two main parties. Therefore, the 2015 political shift should be considered as a challenge to the strengthening of democracy in the country.
A rerun of the election which would lead in the spending of Sh7 billion, whereas the people have already voted, is not only illegal and unconstitutional, but also unethical, particularly when the majority of Zanzibaris continue living below the poverty line.
Without an opposition party like the CUF that legitimately represent over half of citizens, it simply means that the GNU, which is a constitutional requirement, will practically be rendered useless.
Moreover, constitutionally, even the number of ministers is shared. With one or two small parties which make only 400 votes, ministers cannot be proportionally nominated from the Opposition, and thus, the GNU becomes one party government.
And how the First Vice President will be chosen? Or small parties that normally get 400 votes might get 40,000 votes in the rerun? Is this a democracy or a dictatorship?
More significantly, experience has shown that countries that have conducted election reruns such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi and others, were engulfed in huge violence.
We must not forget that Zanzibar itself has a dreadful record of an election rerun. History tells us of the “June 1961 riots” in which 68 people were killed, thousands injured and numerous houses set on fire in the disturbances following the rerun of the January 1961 election. Prevention is better than cure.
Political leaders must bear in mind that the presence of peace and stability in the country is fundamental to the country’s development and the wellbeing of its people.
The Constitution provides the framework for elections to serve as a means for people to choose their representatives and confer legitimacy on the institutions of government.
The work of an electoral commission is to ensure a fair playing field, professional conduct and credible monitoring of the electoral process in order to build public confidence in the integrity and diligence of institutions.
Elections are neither the property of any party nor commission, but they constitutionally belong to the citizens. Once the people have exercised their democratic right, the suffrage body must respect the will of the people.
There are some issues which should be done to ensure Zanzibar remains one. Top among them is the need for political leaders from the contesting parties to first consider interests of the people of Zanzibar and Tanzania before theirs or those of their parties.
There is also need for putting in place concrete principles of free and fair elections, which all parties must respect. This will promote good governance and rule of law in line with the concept of democracy that the will of the people is respected and upheld.
All violent activities such as abuse of the government’s paramilitary forces, harassment, intimidation and discrimination such as the one based on race are crimes that could lead to prosecution.
Leaders should be reminded that it was the human rights violation perpetrated by President Al Bashir of Sudan, his minister Ahmed Harun, and Ali Khushayb, the leader of the Janjaweed, that led the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue arrest warrants.
Leaders have a chance for rectifying mistakes committed in the past by promoting fundamental principles of democracy, including practicing good governance and uniting the society under the philosophy of the right to choose their leaders and decide on their destiny.
NB: This article is republished from the Citizen newspaper of March 9, 2016