By Kevin J Kelley
Tanzanian civil society activists have warned that the country could be convulsed by violence after the October 25 elections, due to "diminishing civic tolerance" among citizens.
The leaders at a recent forum in Washington last week said that Tanzania's international image as a stable, peaceful country may no longer prove valid.
Harold Sungusia, advocacy director at the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam, said the country faces its first truly competitive election since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992.
Destruction of property occurred in some normally tranquil rural areas during and after local election campaigns early this year, Mr Sungusia said.
"Any place in the country is now potentially a hot spot," he said.
Suspicions that the voting next month may not be conducted freely and fairly are "laying the groundwork for post-election violence," said Mr Sungusia.
That assessment was echoed by Agnes Hanti, director of the Dar office of the New York-based Open Society Foundation.
"If in any way the process is not managed well, there will be violence," said Ms Hanti. She attributed the tensions to resentment on the part of many young Tanzanians regarding the recent actions and long record of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi.
"The government has passed several draconian laws in recent months limiting freedom of expression and assembly."
The September 17 forum was held in the Washington offices of the Open Society Foundation.
Ms Hanti and Mr Sungusia also said the run-up to the election has raised doubts about the impartiality of the bodies that are overseeing the rules governing the campaign and that will monitor the actual polling.
Awadh Ali Said, president of the Zanzibar Law Society, decried the lack of an appeal mechanism related to decisions made by the National Electoral Commission. Its rulings as well as the officially determined outcome of the election itself cannot be challenged in the courts, said Mr Said.
The activists expressed concerns that Tanzania's reputation for political tranquility is causing outsiders to pay scant attention to the coming election.
"They get away with a lot because they think nobody is watching, nobody cares," Ms Hanti said in regard to government officials.
Panelists were asked by an audience member whether Tanzania could learn lessons from the peaceful conduct of elections in Kenya in 2013 following the violence that ravaged the country in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.
The difference between the two sets of voting is linked to Kenya's adoption of a new Constitution in 2010, said Mr Said. He said the new charter contained guarantees of civic and personal freedoms that were reassuring to most Kenyans.
Tanzania was not able this year to complete drafting of a new constitution of its own, the panelists said. They said public anger over Tanzanian authorities' alleged mis-handling of the constitutional review process accounts in part for the unusually strong political mobilisation now evident in the country.
Many Tanzanians are simply excited by the "unpredictability" surrounding the coming election, Mr Sungusia said. For the first time, it appears that Chama cha Mapinduzi may not sweep to victory, he added.