Thousands of people protested in Tanzania on Wednesday against proposed changes to electoral laws, in the largest public demonstration since the government lifted a ban on opposition political rallies a year ago.
Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, organised the rally in the main city of Dar es Salaam as lawmakers prepare to debate next month a raft of contentious electoral reforms proposed by the government.
“This is just the beginning,” Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe promised the crowd, adding that protests would spread from Tanzania’s economic capital to other parts of the country until the government responded to its concerns.
Tanzania is scheduled to hold its first presidential election in 2025 since the death of John Magufuli in late 2021 led to his deputy, Samia Suluhu Hassan, becoming leader of the East African country.
Mbowe, who has spent time in prison under both leaders, said the proposals did not address concerns over the last election in 2020, which Magufuli won in a landslide despite opposition claims of fraud.
Chadema has been campaigning for constitutional reforms and greater independence for the electoral commission to be included in the legislation to be debated by lawmakers in February.
Mbowe called the proposals “cosmetic” and particular opposition has been directed at a measure that would allow Hassan to directly appoint five of the 10 members of the electoral commission.
“We want to tell the government to withdraw the bills, which intend to protect the ruling party,” opposition activist Mdude Nyagali said at the rally where supporters wore the red, white and blue colours of the Chadema party.
Hassan sought to reverse some of the more hardline policies of her predecessor Magufuli, whose strongman tendencies earned him the nickname “Bulldozer”.
A ban on opposition gatherings was overturned in January 2023.
Shortly afterwards, one of Tanzania’s most prominent opposition leaders, Tundu Lissu, returned to the country after having spent most of the previous five years in exile.
© Agence France-Presse