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Tanzania president moves to ease fears over election

President John Magufuli

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania | AFP | Tanzanian President John Magufuli has promised this year’s general election will be “free and fair” and invited international monitors to observe proceedings amid concerns of a democratic crackdown in the East African nation.

Magufuli’s long-ruling CCM party won 99 percent of seats in local government polls in November that the US and Britain said lacked credibility and transparency.

The strongman president, who is expected to run for a second term this year, has been accused of targeting the press and his political opponents in Tanzania, once viewed as a stable democracy in the region.

Speaking before an audience including foreign diplomats and senior UN officials, Magufuli sought to assuage fears about the election, which is due to be held sometime this year although no date has yet been set.

“We will ensure the general election, which is important in a democratic country, is peaceful, free and fair,” the president said late Tuesday at an annual dinner for dignitaries in Dar es Salaam.

“We will also invite international observers, to witness how Tanzania is matured in democracy.”

Magufuli came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people” but has since been criticised for his authoritarian leadership style.

Nicknamed “The Bulldozer”, his administration has shut down newspapers, switched off live broadcasts of parliament and used far-reaching cybercrime laws to jail critics.

Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog, last year labelled Magufuli a “press freedom predator” and dropped Tanzania 25 places on its annual press freedom index.

Tanzania’s main opposition party boycotted November’s local polls, citing intimidation and harassment, paving the way for a cleansweep by Magufuli’s CCM.

International observers said the disqualification of opposition candidates, coupled with Tanzania’s refusal to provide accreditation to respected election monitors, eroded confidence in the outcome.

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