An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but it allows parliament to restrict this right if a citizen is mentally infirm, convicted of certain criminal offenses, or omits or fails to prove or produce evidence of age, citizenship, or registration as a voter. Citizens residing outside the country are not allowed to vote. The NEC is responsible for mainland and union electoral affairs, while the Zanzibar Electoral Commission manages elections in Zanzibar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held its most recent multiparty general election on October 28. Separate elections are held for the union and for Zanzibar, ordinarily on the same day, in which citizens of the two parts of the union elect local officials, members of the national parliament, and a union (national) president. Additionally, Zanzibar separately elects a president of Zanzibar and members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives.

International and local observers noted that the October 28 elections were marred with numerous credible reports of irregularities, along with internet and social media outages. There were reports of the NEC denying registrations for opposition candidates, who were also frequently harassed and even arrested. The CCM benefitted from superior financial and institutional resources. This was the first election where the Zanzibar Electoral Commission allowed two days of voting. The first day was reserved for government security forces, who reportedly needed to vote on October 27 in order to stand duty on October 28. The mainland did not enact a similar policy, and voting there took place only on October 28.

In the lead-up to the national elections, the NEC was selective regarding approving credentials for organizations to provide election observers and voter education programs. Many asserted this represented a politicization of the accreditation process, whereby the government used the process to deny credentials to legitimate, experienced, and resourced domestic observer groups while approving observers without the resources, capacity, or reach to monitor the election effectively. Some organizations who were denied credentials appealed the decision to the commission, but ultimately were not accredited.

On August 25, the nomination day for candidates, 1,000 opposition candidates for parliament and councilor seats were disqualified. Many of the candidates appealed this ruling to the NEC, resulting in the reinstatement of 67 opposition candidates for parliament and 236 opposition candidates for ward council seats. Despite these reinstatements, 28 ruling party parliamentary candidates ran for their seats unopposed (equivalent to 10 percent of all constituencies), and 870 councilor seats were won unopposed (21.9 percent of ward seats).

On October 28, the country held its sixth multiparty general election, resulting in the reelection of the union president, John Magufuli, with 85 percent of the vote, and the election of Dr. Hussein Mwinyi, with 76 percent of the vote, for his first term as president of Zanzibar. International and local election observers and civil society noted widespread election irregularities in the pre-election period, on election day, and in the postelection period which affected the credibility of the electoral process. In the lead-up to the election, opposition candidates were routinely disqualified, harassed, and arrested. There were reports of significant and widespread voting irregularities, internet disruptions, intimidation of journalists, arrests, and violence by security forces both on the mainland and on Zanzibar resulting in an election that was neither free nor fair.

Local elections in November 2019 were widely criticized for a lack of fairness and credibility after thousands of opposition party candidates were disqualified from running. With most domestic observer groups banned from monitoring, and a widespread opposition boycott, the ruling party CCM claimed to have won 99.7 percent of the contests, ensuring nearly complete control at the local level.

In June 2019 the speaker of parliament removed opposition CHADEMA MP Tundu Lissu for absenteeism and failing to submit required disclosure statements in a timely manner. Lissu survived an attempt to kill him in 2017 and was abroad until July for medical care. The court dismissed Lissu’s challenge to his removal, and a CCM member was sworn in on September 3, 2019, to represent Lissu’s constituency. In August, Lissu became CHADEMA’s candidate for president.

In October 2019 the Court of Appeal overturned a May 2019 decision by the High Court of Dar es Salaam to prohibit district executive directors from supervising elections on the grounds that their supervision violates a constitutional ban on political parties from running elections. District executive directors are presidentially appointed to act as the secretary of district councils, and many are active members of the ruling CCM party.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution establishes the country as a multiparty democracy and requires that persons running for office represent a registered political party. The law prohibits unregistered parties. There are 19 political parties with full registration and three with provisional registration. In the October election, 17 parties participated. To secure full registration, parties must submit lists of at least 200 members in 10 of the country’s 31 regions, including two of the five regions of Zanzibar.

The registrar of political parties has sole authority to approve registration of any political party and is responsible for enforcing regulations. In February 2019 an amendment of the Political Parties Act expanded the registrar’s powers, a move opposition MPs asserted would cement one-party rule. Under the amended act, the registrar may prohibit any individual from engaging in political activities and request any information from a political party, including minutes and attendee lists from party meetings. During the year, the political opposition faced difficulty forming a coalition due in part to the Political Parties Act requirement that all minutes, areas of agreement, and strategic plans be shared with the registrar of political parties.

The law requires political parties to support the union between Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar; parties based on ethnic, regional, or religious affiliation are prohibited.

MPs were sanctioned for criticizing the government, including in speeches on the floor of parliament.

The law provides for a “gratuity” payment of 235 million TZS to 280 million TZS ($102,000 to $121,000) to MPs completing a five-year term. Incumbents can use these funds in re-election campaigns. Several NGOs and opposition parties criticized this provision as impeding opposition parliamentary candidates from mounting effective challenges.

The mainland government allowed political opponents unrestricted access to media, but the ruling party had far more funding to purchase broadcast time.

The NEC updated the voter register in preparation for the October general elections. The law requires that voter registration drives be carried out twice every five years. The law, however, restricted political parties’ ability to offer civic education and outreach on voter registration and voting rights, as they had done in the past. With the mandate for providing voter education falling on NEC’s limited budget, combined with a rejection of foreign assistance, NEC issued accreditation for civic education to only 24 small and inexperienced CSOs. Since none of the accredited CSOs had the financial or technical capacity to carry out effective national voter education campaigns, few actual voter education messages reached citizens–especially during the voter registration period. In addition the NEC scheduled only seven days for registration in each region, a time frame stakeholders asserted was inadequate. Opposition parties asserted that widespread disenfranchisement resulted from a flawed voter registration process, especially on Zanzibar, where new Zanzibar identification requirements inserted political actors into the process and purportedly resulted in the disenfranchisement of as many as 80,000 voters on the island of Pemba.

There was political violence directed at opposition party members. On September 18, Deo Mosha, campaign manager of the opposition National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR) party, was wounded by knife-wielding assailants in Moshi. Other NCCR supporters were reportedly assaulted in Vunjo, the home constituency of James Mbatia, NCCR national chairman and MP candidate. One assault victim claimed that the perpetrators of this attack wanted her to pledge allegiance to the ruling party CCM but she refused.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural and financial constraints limited women’s participation in politics. There were special women’s seats in both parliament and the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Two women, Queen Sendinga of the Alliance for Democratic Change and Cecelia Mwanga of Demokrasia Makini, ran for president in October. There were also female running mates in five of the parties fielding presidential candidates. There were 21 women who won MP constituency seats on the mainland, including 19 from CCM. There were 94 CCM women who filled special seats. There are 20-22 seats that can be filled by CHADEMA.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select a Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future