Southern African News Features                                           SANF 10 No 40, Oct 2010
Zanzibar referendum ushers in a new era

"With these results, there is no loser and there is no winner. Let us believe that we have all won."

These were the words of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission when it announced the outcome of the referendum held on 31 July to decide whether the islands should have a unity government after the 31 October general elections.

More than two-thirds of the electorate voted for a power-sharing government, which could signal the end of political violence in the islands at election time.

A unity government will include a President from the wining party, first Vice President from the second-placed party and second Vice President from the wining party. Ministries would be allocated on a proportional basis.

Such a scenario points to a government made up of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party which currently governs the islands and the main opposition, the Civic United Front (CUF) – an arrangement that many could never have predicted a few years ago. Both parties campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum.

The two parties, who have had a bitter rivalry since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1992, said the referendum outcome is "a victory for all Zanzibaris" as well as the United Republic of Tanzania and the whole of east and southern Africa.

"The people have expressed their opinion that they need unity in Zanzibar," the Zanzibar CCM Secretary-General said. "I hope the next elections will be peaceful and we shall continue to work together with the opposition."

The CUF leader, Seif Sharif Hamad, said he is happy with the results and "I hope that what we have been building since November last year will benefit all Zanzibaris." Hamad is contesting the October polls for the fourth time after failed attempts in 1995, 2000 and 2005.

CCM has selected Vice President Ali Mohamed Shein as its candidate for the Zanzibar presidential polls. Shein replaces President Amani Abeid Karume, whose second and final term as Zanzibar President ends in October.

The general elections in Zanzibar are conducted on the same day as national elections for the United Republic of Tanzania so Zanzibaris vote twice, once for the national President and parliament, and once for their own local President and parliament, which is more like local government.

The Zanzibar archipelago, comprising the two main islands of Unguja and Pemba, retains its own governance structure and electoral system in addition to the Union structures.

Zanzibar and Tanganyika, as the mainland was then known, entered into a Union agreement in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, whose main objective is to build a unified society based on freedom, human rights and peaceful existence.

Tanzania has dismissed claims raised by legal experts that the amendments to the electoral law in Zanzibar would affect the union.

The country’s deputy Attorney-General George Masaju said the changes are meant to accommodate the proposed unity government and not undermine the union.

"I do not see any problem related to the amendment anywhere in the Zanzibar constitution. The amendments seek to accommodate the structure of the coalition government and emphasize critical issues related to the union," he said. The ruling CCM has also said despite the changes, the "union is still so strong that nothing could threaten it."

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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