Tanzania: Electoral system

Extracted from: Grant Masterson 2009 "Chapter 13: Tanzania and Zanzibar" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 516-519.

Since the introduction of multiparty elections in Tanzania in 1995, the republic has used the first-past-the-post system to determine the composition of the National Legislature, with a separate winner takes all ballot directly electing the president of the republic. Due to the nature of the Union arrangement, if a presidential candidate comes from the mainland in Tanzania, then his running mate, the vice-presidential candidate, must come from Zanzibar, and vice versa. The National Assembly also reserves a number of seats specifically for women candidates, based on the performance of the various political parties which contest the elections.

Legislative power is exercised by the Union National Assembly, which controls all Union and mainland matters. All non-Union matters pertaining to Zanzibar are legislated by the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Representatives to the Union's National Assembly are directly elected through universal adult suffrage, with the exception of five members nominated directly from the Zanzibar House of Representatives to the Union National Assembly. Mainland constituencies may be reviewed by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) (the commission which handles Union elections, as opposed to the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) which coordinates Zanzibar's electoral matters) prior to each election. Representatives to the Zanzibar House of Representatives are also directly elected through universal adult suffrage for citizens of Zanzibar and Unguja. At times, this distinction has not been easy to distinguish for the ZEC, prior to Zanzibar's introducing national identity cards for its citizens. Restrictions are also placed on the constituency in which a person may vote in Zanzibar, as a person must prove that s/he has lived in a particular district for a minimum of three years prior to an election in order to vote in that constituency (Based on the Muafaka II Accord negotiated between the CCM and the Civic United Front after the violent clashes which occurred in 2001, after the heated 2000 elections). This rule creates further complications for the ZEC, due to flows of migrant labour between the main island of Unguja and the less economically affluent Pemba island, as well as a steady flow of trade in goods and services between Unguja island and the capital Dar es Salaam, which at times has made it difficult to ascertain whether or not a person is a resident or a migrant labourer in a district.

The president of the Union is directly elected by universal adult suffrage in elections for the presidency, which take place at the same time as National Assembly elections. The president is the head of state, head of government and chief of the armed forces in Tanzania, and the president's approval is required for any bill to pass into legislation from the National Assembly. Zanzibar elects a separate president who operates in an identical manner with regard to all matters relating to the Zanzibar House of Representatives and non-Union controlled Zanzibari issues.


The current system of multiparty political contestations through periodic presidential, parliamentary and local authority elections was introduced as a result of a commission instigated by former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who appointed Chief Justice Francis Nyalali to canvass the opinions of citizens regarding a change of electoral system from the one-party state system, which was the dominant political model in Tanzania from 1965 until the early 1990s. During the one-party state system, the two ruling parties on the mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar merged in 1977 to form a united ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

The Nyalali commission found that 80 per cent of those who responded to the commission's enquiries expressed their preference for remaining under the one-party system. However, the commission argued in its recommendations that the 20 per cent of those questioned who did want change was a significant percentage of the country, and that the commission believed that change was inevitable at some point in the future if it was to accommodate the desire of this section of the population. The commission therefore took the unusual decision to recommend that the country move away from a one-party system despite a clear majority expressing their desire to remain under a one-party state. Further concerns regarding the impact of multiparty contestations in Zanzibar complicated the findings of the commission, as the history of bitter political contestations there implied that future multi-party elections could suffer from the same potential conflicts. Additionally, discussions around Zanzibar were further complicated by a motion which was brought before the National Assembly in 1993 by 55 MPs proposing separate governments for Zanzibar and the mainland, a motion that precipitated a national referendum within the CCM party, where all branches were given up to a year to deliberate on the issue of a "one government, two governments or three governments" system (Msekwa, P. 2008). The referendum rejected the "one country, two systems" option after vigorous debate, opting to maintain the status quo, which afforded the smaller Zanzibar citizenry dual-representation in both a Zanzibar and Union National Assembly (the "two governments" approach; Msekwa 2008). The Nyalali commission's findings, along with the CCM referendum, set the framework and conditions for multiparty elections in 1995, after the constitution was amended in 1992 to legalise opposition parties and open up the political space for contestations outside of the ruling party.


MSEKWA, P 2008 "Crucial challenges of Tanzania in the 1990s", IPPMedia, [www] http://www.ippmedia.com/ipp/guardian/2008/03/11/110115.html (offline 4 September 2020).