Zanzibar’s main opposition presidential candidate declared himself the winner on Monday of elections on the semi-autonomous archipelago of Tanzania, ahead of an official announcement of results.
Seif Sharif Hamad from the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), the vice-president in the previous unity government, told reporters he had won Sunday’s polls, claiming to have seen official documents of final voting figures.
There has been no announcement from the Zanzibar Electoral Commission and the figures given by Seif could not be verified, but the declaration is likely to raise tensions on the islands.
Following Hamad’s unilateral declaration of victory, CUF supporters charged through the narrow streets of historic Stone Town celebrating and chanting slogans.
Hamad, 71, making his fifth bid for the islands’ top job, went head-to-head with incumbent president Ali Mohamed Shein of the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
“There is no question… the ruling party has been defeated for the first time since 1977,” Seif told reporters.
“I have won by 52.87%, against the incumbent president Dr Ali Mohamed Shein’s 47.13%,” he said.
Zanzibar has experienced sectarian and political tensions in recent years – including several grenade explosions – with the unrest affecting the islands’ key tourist industry.
There have also been wider tensions around Zanzibar’s union with the mainland, with some opposition political parties wanting to break ties and return to the independence it briefly enjoyed in early 1964 before merging with Tanganyika.
The CUF promised to campaign for full autonomy if it wins, while the CCM has vowed to maintain the status quo.
“We call on the President of United Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, to facilitate a smooth transition and not to allow Zanzibar to descend into chaos,” Hamad said.
In mainland Tanzania, votes are being counted following Sunday’s presidential, general and local elections. Zanzibaris also voted for the national president.
In that race, John Magufuli of CCM is seen as the narrow favourite to beat ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, a CCM stalwart who recently defected to the opposition Chadema party.
UK warns nationals
The Foreign Office has warned British visitors to Zanzibar to stay indoors because of the prospects of riots following elections on 25 October.
In a rare alert, the FCO said: “Large crowds are gathering in Stone Town [the capital] and tear gas has been used. If you’re in Stone Town, stay in a safe location (hotel or home) and avoid being out on the streets. Avoid travelling into the centre of Stone Town if possible.”
“Be aware of your surroundings and avoid political rallies, polling stations, large crowds or public demonstrations. Make sure you have a means of communication with you at all times and monitor local media for updates.”
It is warning of “heightened tension and unrest after the elections” particularly in towns and cities on the mainland and Zanzibar.
Two years ago, two British women were the victims of an acid attack in Stone Town.
Also in 2013, an explosion took place at the Anglican Cathedral in Stone Town.