President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete
NO one can tell with absolute certainty which way Tanzania’s presidential election results will go on October 31, despite several opinion polls predicting an easy win for Jakaya Kikwete of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
The unexpected emergence of Dr. Wilbrod Slaa of CHADEMA as the 'accidental' presidential candidate of the opposition party has changed the political landscape in the country in the past few weeks, analysts say.
Even the most hardened CCM stalwarts now privately admit that a repeat of the landslide victory by the ruling party in 2005 would be a tough act to follow now that Dr. Slaa is firmly in the picture.
Comparisons are already being drawn to the country's first-ever multi-party general election in 1995, when an opposition presidential candidate posed a formidable challenge to CCM.
Two opinion polls released earlier in the year show Kikwete would beat his opposition rivals by a comfortable margin.
A poll by the University of Dar es Salaam's Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania (REDET) centre showed in April that 77.2 per cent of Tanzanians would vote for his re-election.
An independent pollster, Synovate, said in June that Kikwete's popularity had dropped to 69 percent from 73 percent, reflecting some criticism on how he handled threats by labour unions for a nationwide workers' strike over pay and conditions.
The 60-year-old Kikwete, seeking re-election for a second and final term in office, won the presidency in the previous general election by 80.3 percent of the vote.
Dr. Slaa, who will celebrate his 62nd birthday just two days shy of Election Day, had previously resisted calls to run for president and opted instead to seek re-election as Member of Parliament for the Karatu constituency.
He reluctantly agreed to run for the highest office in the land after being persuaded to do so by his party.
Insiders say CHADEMA had delayed the nomination of its presidential candidate on hopes that a political heavyweight would jump ship from CCM and become the opposition party's flag bearer in the polls.
"When the expected exodus of CCM lawmakers to CHADEMA didn't materialise, Slaa was asked to step up and carry the party mantle. This could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the opposition party because of Dr. Slaa's growing popularity with the masses," said one analyst.
Dr. Slaa presents himself as a candidate for change, running on a strong anti-corruption platform.
Kikwete, on the other hand, has also pledged to tackle graft and promises continuity of policies aimed at reducing poverty.
The outgoing president has defended his record in government amidst criticism of worsening national poverty, saying a prolonged drought and high oil prices had curbed his administration's ability to deliver on some of his economic promises during his first term.
YOUTH, WOMEN VOTES CRUCIAL
Analysts say the candidate who carries the women and youth votes will likely win the presidential election.
According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), more than 19.6 million Tanzanians have registered to vote, half of them women.
"Kikwete's landslide victory in 2005 was largely attributed to women's vote. They have proven to be the key for winning the election," a senior CCM member said.
"However, we have an overwhelming population of youths and first-time voters in this year's polls and they could swing the election either side."
Pundits say Kikwete will also likely benefit from a split of votes for opposition presidential candidates.
Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba of the Civic United Front (CUF) will run for president for a record fourth time this year, having been unsuccessful in all three previous attempts.
The veteran CUF leader lost twice against former president Benjamin Mkapa and was unsuccessful against Kikwete in the 2005 polls.
There have been suggestions for Lipumba to drop out of the presidential race and rally behind Dr. Slaa, with CHADEMA reciprocating the favour by supporting CUF's candidate for the Zanzibar presidency, Seif Sharif Hamad, but opposition unity remains elusive.
"In fact, I won't be surprised if I see some opposition parties targeting Dr. Slaa for negative campaigning in the election, instead of the CCM candidate," said one political commentator.
Analysts say a good turnout in the general election bodes well for Dr. Slaa and his platform of change.
"One thing is for certain, there is more at stake this time than the previous general election with voters given a clear choice between change and more of the same."
Other presidential candidates are Tanzania Labour Party (TLP)'s Muttamwega Mgaywa, Peter Mziray of APPT-Maendeleo, NCCR-MAGEUZI's Hashim Rungwe and United People’s Democratic Party (UPDP)’s Fahmi Dovutwa.
Nationwide official campaigns for the October 31 general election officially kicked off on Friday.