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Thousands of people took to the streets of Tanzania’s biggest city on Wednesday under the banner of the main opposition party, the first large-scale protest since the government lifted a seven-year ban on political rallies, the Associated Press reported.
Supporters of the Chadema party demonstrated peacefully in Dar es Salaam against government-proposed electoral reforms. They demanded more substantial constitutional changes, independent monitoring of the upcoming elections, and the addressing of economic woes.
The demonstration was the first of its kind to be allowed since late President John Magufuli upon taking office in 2015 banned the opposition from organizing rallies.
Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe told the protesters, “This is just the beginning.” He added that further demonstrations would take place throughout Tanzania, Al Jazeera reported.
Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer,” led a presidency described by observers as “authoritarian.” After he died in 2021, his deputy Samia Suluhu Hassan took over and launched a series of measures to undo part of his legacy and pave the way to reconciliation. She lifted the rally ban in January 2023, wrote World Politics Review.
Nonetheless, scholar Dan Paget noted that the move did not necessarily imply future democratic reforms.
Lawmakers next month will discuss a controversial bill amending Tanzania’s electoral code ahead of local government elections this year and in 2025 the first presidential election since Magufuli’s death. The measures proposed by the government include the possibility for President Hassan to appoint half of the electoral commission, which the opposition described as an attempt to “protect the ruling party.”
Mbowe demanded that the proposals be withdrawn from parliament until public opinion was considered. His party wants to allow presidential election results to be challenged in court after Magufuli’s 2020 reelection was validated amid claims of fraud.
Under Magufuli’s rule, Mbowe and other politicians were jailed, and opposition demonstrations faced state violence. On Wednesday, however, the march occurred under police protection. “Police have not disrupted the protest because they understand our quest,” Mbowe commented.