Tuesday, August 3, 2010

No winner, no loser in Zanzibar referendum

Zanzibar, Tanzania [August 02 2010]

Zanzibar has opted to enshrine power-sharing in the constitution in a bid to end decades of crippling political feuds, according referendum results released on Sunday.

Two thirds of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian territory's voters approved the idea of a coalition government being formed after the upcoming October 31 polls, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced.

The "yes" vote, supported by both the ruling CCM and the opposition CUF parties, mustered 66.4 percent while the "no" vote took 33.4 percent in the referendum held on Saturday.

Tallying from polling stations on the two islands of Unguja and Pemba lasted through the night and official results were announced at a central results centre set up in a hotel in the capital Stone Town.

"With these results, there is no loser and there is no winner. Let us believe that we have all won," ZEC chairperson Khatib Mwinyichande said.

The referendum will bring an amendment to the constitution to create two vice-president positions to be split between the parties that come first and second in parliamentary polls.

Ministries will be allocated on a proportional basis.

"The peace and stability which prevailed during the referendum should continue," Mwinyichande added.

Zanzibar declared independence on January 12, 1964 after a revolution that ended several centuries of rule by Arab sultans.

Three months later, it merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but maintained a semi-autonomous government with its own president, constitution, flag and national anthem.

Rivalry between the main CCM and CUF parties has been bitter and often bloody since the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1992 but both movements rejoiced Sunday at the "yes" vote's convincing win.

"I'm really happy with the results and I hope that what we've been building since November last year will benefit all Zanzibaris," opposition CUF leader Seif Sharif Hamad said after witnessing the results being read out.

"The people have expressed their opinion that they need unity in Zanzibar. I hope the next elections will be peaceful and we shall continue to work together with the opposition," ruling CCM secretary general Saleh Feruz said.

Opposition bastions overwhelmingly voted yes while the no vote had a slight edge in most CCM-dominated areas, where some ruling party faithful remained opposed to relinquishing any power to their old foes.

Youth groups celebrated the result of the referendum in the streets of Stone Town on Sunday, waving flags to the effigy of President Amani Karume as well as the colours of the CUF.

Zanzibar is home to around 1.2 million people and is known around the world as an idyllic travel destination with spices, palm-fringed beaches and a rich history that inspired famous writers.

But at least 30 people were killed in January 2001 during clashes between police and CUF supporters and almost every other election has been marred by violence, tarnishing the archipelago's image and slowing foreign aid.