Tanzania's ruling party to pick presidential candidate

John Kulekana
Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete delivers a speech during a business meeting in New Delhi on June 18, 2015 (AFP Photo/Prakash Singh)

Dar es Salaam (AFP) - Tanzania's ruling party is selecting its presidential candidate this week, with the winner expected to take the east African country's top job after the October elections.

With a weak and fractured opposition, and President Jakaya Kikwete stepping down after his second and final term, competition is stiff with 38 candidates vying to secure the ticket of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, in power since independence in 1964, and with two-thirds of seats in the assembly.

Kikwete, the CCM chairman, has said he does not have a "favourite person", but called on party members to vote for a candidate who could stem corruption.

"Pick a person who is a serious, competent and good leader to boost the country's economic and social development," Kikwete told a rally on Monday.

Presidential, parliamentary and local polls are due on October 25.

Frontrunners for the CCM nomination include Vice-President Mohamed Bilal, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, and former prime ministers Edward Lowassa and Frederick Sumaye.

Also in the lineup are Justice Minister Asha-Rose Migiro, a former UN deputy secretary general and ex-foreign minister, as well as current Foreign Minister Bernard Membe.

Charles Makongoro Nyerere, son of founding president Julius Nyerere, as well as Ali Karume, the son of the first president of Tanzania's semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, are also in the race.

Most of the presidential hopefuls have pledged to tackle poverty and fight corruption should they win.

- 'Democratic maturity' -

"This is the first time in the country's history when dozens of aspirants are seeking nomination of CCM to run for the top office - it is healthy and shows democratic maturity," said Benson Bana, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam.

But he also called for fair play.

"Aspirants should avoid mudslinging and corrupt practices," Bana said.

Top CCM officials will this week select three candidates and party members will vote on their final choice at a congress on July 12 and 13.

The party will also select its candidate to run for president of Zanzibar, with incumbent Ali Mohamed Shein hoping to secure a second and final five-year term.

Kikwete is scheduled to dissolve parliament on Thursday to pave way for the October polls.

Tanzania, with over 50 million people, is east Africa's most populous country, with economic growth of more than seven percent, according to the World Bank.

Despite advances, the country "remains very poor by regional and international standards", the World Bank says, with agriculture the key sector, providing a quarter of gross domestic product, and employing three-quarters of the population.

The government has also been criticised for failing to stamp out rampant corruption, and conservationists also say the number of elephants being slaughtered for ivory by poachers is among the highest anywhere on the continent.

Opposition politicians have also started the process of seeking party nomination for the presidential race.

Ibrahim Lipumba of the Civic United Front (CUF) will be making his fifth attempt to become president of Tanzania, having lost to Benjamin Mkapa in 1995 and 2000, and Kikwete in 2005 and 2010.

Some however believe the opposition could do well in the polls.

The opposition said in October it would present single candidates at all levels, something analyst Nicodemus Minde from the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) said could provide "tough opposition".

"There is no doubt that CCM remains an experienced grand old party, whose history and formation resonate with the ideals of Tanzania as a nation," Minde said, but noted the party had been best by "corruption scandals and internal schisms."