Thought I would write today a little about a common theme that is running through both my life here and perhaps also yours. It’s an election year here in Tanzania and the country which is scheduled to go to the poll every 5 years will vote for its new president and parliament on October 31st. Back home in Ontario, voters went to the polls to elect a new mayors and city councils on Monday, Oct 25th (really Toronto? Rob Ford? Maybe I’ll stay abroad 3 more years…) and then there are my American friends who have their mid-term elections coming up next week on November 2nd. For the political junkies out there, it’s a fine time to be alive.

I must admit, while I do not claim to be any kind of expert or really hold anything much beyond common knowledge about politics, I do find myself somewhat hooked every time an election is in the news. So, perhaps not a political junkie – more of an elections junkie. During the American presidential primaries in 2007, I had a Super Tuesday reminder in my Outlook calendar and stayed in to watch Barack and Hilary duke it out as the live results came in on CNN. I have been known to closely follow foreign elections of which I should really have no interest in at all and can’t pronounce the candidates’ names properly. I find advanced polling numbers addictive and analyzing campaign strategies strangely attractive. Should I stop now? Anyways, as such, I’ve been quite interested in this weekend’s election here in TZ and thought I might bring you up to speed on the unpredictable world of my first Tanzanian election campaign.

As I often do, I’d like to add a disclaimer in here for any readers I might upset with anything I write – I know everyone always says avoid talking about politics, religion, and sex – but, frankly speaking, the weather and the local sports teams make for boring posts– so, pole sana, I’m just an outsider looking in and giving my particular perspective! (stay tuned for future posts on sex and religion I guess).

Let’s start out with a inadequate 30 second history lesson. Tanzania gained independence from the UK in 1961 and as with many other of these fledging states, turned to its independence leaders and founding political party to lead the nation. Tanzania was fortunate to have the strong leadership of  Julius Nyrere during this formative time and has escaped much of the government-military merry-go-rounds and ethnic group divisions that have famously marred many of its neighbouring states. However it was not until 1985, when under pressure from foreign governments and donors, that the country agreed to abandon it’s founding one-party political state. Even with the introduction of multi-party politics and elections in 1985, the ruling CCM party has never had a serious challenger for the business of running this country – winning the elections thus far without serious challenge (capturing 81% of the vote in the 2005 election.)

Here we are in 2010 and against what I certainly seemed to expect (another runaway victory for the incumbent Jakaya Kikwete’s CCM) we might just have a real race on our hands. Despite what seems to be an outspending by the ruling CCM of their nearest rivals by at least a 10:1 margin (if not 10x that amount) – a party which last election only garnered 5.8% of the vote called Chadema and their presidential candidate Dr. Wilibrod Slaa are gaining a strong following with their anti-corruption and change message (but more on that later). A huge CCM advertising campaign is underway and has absolutely covered the entire city of Dar es Salaam – I would estimate their green and yellow billboards must cover close to half of all available advertising spaces in the city.

Back home we are inundated with a barrage of data and predictions from political experts throughout a campaign. Daily polls are released tracking the fortunes of each party/candidate and a person can quite often have a very solid idea of who will win their particular election long before they get the chance to cast their vote (I’m still waiting to vote in an election where my riding isn’t already a foregone conclusion). Exit polls and the vast amount of data available are often allow television channels to make their ‘calls’ on the victor moments after the last polls close and even then only in the closest of races are the results unknown before you go to sleep that same night.

Here in Tanzania, there have been polls conducted for what I can tell seems to be one of the first times, and the published results have been causing quite a stir. For much of this race the anecdotal evidence (seems as though number of people showing up at a public rallies was the #1 barometer ) seemed to point to Chadema gaining some very serious traction. However, when the first opinion poll came out it at the end of September it predicted the usual CCM victory by 71% to Chadema’s 12%. An October 10th poll by another organization had CCM pegged at 61% with Chadema scoring 16% again causing much controversy. Then a new poll was released by a third organization on October 16th which just threw everything off balance again as this one predicted a 45% victory for Chadema to CCM’s 41% – a swing of 30%+ in the results in two weeks time! Of course, there has been  little  information made publicly available on the statistical methods or validity in any of these polls and so everyone is left to question the means and motives behind them… which only adds to the mystery surrounding Sunday’s vote.

I must say, for me anyways, there is something very refreshing about the mystery and certain unknown before Sunday’s vote here. Purely as an election-watcher, it is kind of nice to not know in advance for once which direction the election will go. On a more serious note though, with some limited occasions of campaign violence, fraud allegations,  and trouble already occurring before the voting – here is to a sincere hope that whatever the results, the losing side can be gracious in defeat and no violence will mar the proceedings and the results. Here is also to hoping that whichever party and whichever officials get elected, they take their mandate seriously and look out for the progress of all Tanzanians. At a minimum, its always good to know there is strong competition this year – because a strong opposition keeps everyone on their toes and everyone wins from more accountable government.

Well, this post is long enough already and since this all probably isn’t as interesting as I think it is…I’ll wrap it up. Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into what is surely a soon to be extinct phenomenon…a political election with a little remaining mystery before the votes are counted.