Having won a very competitive election with the lowest margin by a candidate of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), it may be tempting for Tanzania’s president-elect, Dr John Pombe Magufuli to stonewall on electoral and political reforms that would weaken the party and the presidency.
Yet the fractious nature of the election, on the mainland where main challenger Edward Lowassa has rejected the outcome and announced himself winner, and in Zanzibar where the results were annulled after the opposition claimed a first-ever win, are proof that Dr Magufuli will have to reform more, not less, to keep CCM in power.
Many who voted for Dr Magufuli did so for the man, not the party. Others, like Sulaya Kigaila, a first-time voter in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, did so grudgingly.
“I really wanted change because I think CCM is tired but I ended up voting for Dr Magufuli,” she said. “The opposition spent years telling us Mr Lowassa was corrupt yet they took only a week to choose him as their candidate. I did not trust them.”
Elections in Africa are often violent and stolen. More than half of 300 elections in 47 African countries between 1990 and 2015 were characterised as “violent,” according to researchers from the Institute for Defence Analyses, a not-for-profit funded by the US government.
While elections across Africa have been becoming more peaceful since the return of multiparty politics in the early 1990s, the risk of extreme violence, as seen in Kenya in 2007/8, Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 and Burundi more recently, is never too far off.
Tanzania has been there before, when 40 people were killed and 2,000 forced into exile in the violence that followed disputed elections in Zanzibar in 2000.
Despite that and other sporadic episodes of violence in 2010, electoral contests in Tanzania are, in comparison with most on the continent, far more benign.
Sixty-three per cent of respondents to an Afrobarometer public survey in 2014 said they want losing parties in elections to work with the winner. Almost nine out of every 10 respondents said it was important for people to obey the government in power, regardless of whom they voted for.
If the pollsters are right, and barring any “black swan” developments, this sentiment should see the current dissatisfaction with the outcome of the result fizzle out over coming weeks and months. Hours before the final results were announced, life was slowly going back to normal in Dar es Salaam and elsewhere.
Dr Magufuli should use that space to initiate governance, political and electoral reform, not sit on his laurels. The governance reforms are more immediate and offer the quickest return on political capital.
Having run on an image of honesty, many will be looking at the new president to address the grand corruption that has characterised the Kikwete decade.
Dr Magufuli would do well just to avoid scandals on the scale of Richmond, Tegeta, Barrick Gold et cetera but he will have to do more to get implicated officials prosecuted and support the oversight institutions of government.