A two-horse race for Tanzania’s presidency is shaping up between former prime minister Edward Lowassa and current Minister of Infrastructure John Pombe Magufuli.
Mr Lowassa announced his decision to join the main opposition party Chadema last week, soon after being eliminated from the race for the CCM ticket. He became the highest-ranking party member to join the opposition in 20 years.
Chadema has already confirmed that Mr Lowassa will now become its presidential candidate and subsequently the opposition coalition’s joint candidate.
His candidature as an opposition candidate is expected to present a major challenge for Dr Magufuli, whose nomination had been deemed a sure ticket to State House owing to CCM’s unbeaten record since its founding in 1977.
While CCM is deeply entrenched in Tanzania, Mr Lowassa is considered a force to reckon with, given his track record as a politician and the clout he commanded in the ruling party where he was a member of its national executive council (NEC) since 1990, and party executive at district, regional and head office level from 1977 to 1989. He also chaired President Jakaya Kikwete’s campaigns in 2005.
Chadema, which has always been the underdog in presidential and parliamentary elections, was exuding confidence that more CCM leaders and followers would cross over to the opposition following Mr Lowassa’s move. However, this is yet to be seen.
READ: CCM downplays Lowassa’s defection to opposition
Despite a section of the public questioning Mr Lowassa’s integrity due to scandals he has been associated with in the party, and the opposition consistently labelling him one of the most corrupt Tanzanians, political analysts were optimistic that the high-profile defection would usher in competitive two-party politics.
The biggest challenge for the opposition over the years has been lack of financial and human resources. However, Mr Lowassa, who is a wealthy politician with key private sector connections, brings money and support to the opposition.
However, CCM has enjoyed a strong base of traditional voters who include women, elders and most voters from rural areas. Many retired senior government officials from the army and other security organs subsequently become regional and district commissioners and work to protect the interests of CCM after retirement.
The decision by Chadema to accept Mr Lowassa also seems to have divided the party, as key figures are said to have protested the decision.
Opposition chief whip and Chadema legal aisor Tundi Lissu said that all Chadema leaders were involved in the decision to nominate Mr Lowassa as their presidential candidate.
“Chadema is looking to secure over 133 seats in the forthcoming election, which would enable us to form the government. The party is united and Mr Lowassa will be our presidential candidate, for Chadema and Ukawa. We all agreed to the decision to nominate him,” said Mr Lissu.
But Benson Bana, a political scientist and pollster at the University of Dar es Salaam, said CCM is a political party that is deep-rooted in people’s lives and has identified itself as an institution unlike other political parties. Therefore, removing it from power requires planning and many years of hard work rather than mere talk.
He added that Chadema needs to run an issue-based campaign, which would show up CCM’s policy failures rather than thinking that Mr Lowassa joining them automatically guarantees victory.
Kitila Mkumbo, a senior lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam said regardless of how you look at Mr Lowassa’s defection, the forthcoming election is set to be the most exciting ever and events happening in the next few weeks are likely to determine its outcome.
“Mr Lowassa has loyal and influential supporters who are likely to continue supporting him. Young people are excited about his candidacy and they are Chadema’s biggest supporters,” said Prof Mkumbo.
On the other hand, Prof Mkumbo cautioned that CCM could be hiding a dossier against Mr Lowassa.
More than a dozen senior, wealthy officials have been kicked out of the government under President Jakaya Kikwete’s tenure, and Prof Mkumbo said they are likely to follow Mr Lowassa.
However, he said President Kikwete’s candidate also failed to secure the nomination, therefore they could sympathise with CCM’s presidential candidate Dr Magufuli, who is seen as a neutral candidate.
“So many who were seeking a CCM nomination were booted out in the early stages of the race and they are angry with the party chairman, President Kikwete, so they may want to punish him by supporting the opposition. But, they also sympathise with Dr Magufuli, who is seen as a neutral candidate, and he needs to reach out to them,” said Prof Mkumbo.
A junior CCM official held a press conference last week on Wednesday to say Mr Lowassa was free to leave.
January Makamba, who made it to the top five out of 39 presidential contenders in the CCM nomination, wrote on his twitter page that Mr Lowassa’s defection had guaranteed CCM a victory and that Chadema would spend the rest of its time until the elections, defending their choice.