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Tanzania's opposition to boycott elections over 'cheating'

Chadema, the main opposition outfit that has faced increasing hostility under President John Magufuli, made the announcement late Thursday following an extraordinary meeting of its leadership.

FILE: Tanzania's president John Magufuli. Picture: AFP

NAIROBI - Tanzania's opposition party says it will boycott local elections later this month, accusing the government of impeding its candidates from running and making a mockery of democratic processes.

Chadema, the main opposition outfit that has faced increasing hostility under President John Magufuli, made the announcement late Thursday following an extraordinary meeting of its leadership.

"Our party believes it is wiser not to support such electoral cheating. To continue to participate in elections of this kind is to legitimise illegality," said Chadema president Freeman Mbowe.

Selemani Jafo, the minister for local government, expressed surprise at the decision, adding there would be remedies for candidates who felt they had been wronged.

But Chadema accused electoral authorities of being complicit in scuttling their campaign efforts.

Mbowe said several Chadema candidates had been outright disqualified by electoral officials from running in the nationwide November 24 polls to choose local government leaders.

Others had found registration offices closed when they tried to apply or discovered their applications had been tampered with, he added.

Rights groups say the intimidation of political opponents has escalated sharply under Magufuli, a strongman elected in 2015 whose administration has wielded wide-ranging laws to silence government critics.

Police have broken up opposition gatherings and shut down Chadema meetings, the party says.

Their activists have been kidnapped and beaten, and at least one has blamed authorities for an attack in 2017 which saw him shot multiple times.

Several have disappeared and turned up murdered.

"Magufuli and his party are afraid. We are not going to participate in this charade," Mbowe said of the upcoming elections.

The victors in the local polls form the political backbone for campaigning ahead of general elections slated for 2020.

Magufuli, whose nickname "tingatinga" means "bulldozer" in Swahili, is expected to run for another five-year term.

His rule has been marked by a democratic backslide in Tanzania, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a report last month.

Free media has been cowed by draconian cybercrime laws, critical newspapers and bloggers have been silenced, and opposition activists harassed unlawfully, the report stated.

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