Zanzibar opposition says it wants president to stay

The opposition in Zanzibar has asked the president of the semi-autonomous islands to stay on when his mandate expires in October.

Zanzibar opposition says it wants president to stay

The opposition in Zanzibar has asked the president of the semi-autonomous islands to stay on when his mandate expires in October, an unexpected shift that fueled speculation the rivals have struck a power-sharing deal.

Zanzibar has suffered bouts of political violence since a disputed poll in 2000 put the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in office. But hopes of a deal between the once bitter foes to end a decade of deadlock have been growing.

Zanzibar joined mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania and has its own president and parliament. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete has described the archipelago as the "Achilles' heel" of the otherwise peaceful country of 40 million people.

Seif Sharif Hamad, the leader of Zanzibar's opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party and an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2000 and 2005, urged President Amani Karume last week to stay in power. "I know that he has already declared he doesn't want to stay in office at the end of his second term. But I urge him to heed calls from the wider Zanzibar public for him to extend his term," Hamad said in a public lecture late on Thursday.

"I call for the postponement of the poll for a year or two until conditions on the ground are improved to pave the way for legitimate elections," he said.

The opposition initially refused to recognise Karume because of allegations that vote-rigging in the mainly Muslim islands of 1 million people had twice robbed it of victory.

Historic handshake

More than 30 people were killed in clashes after the 2000 election and fears of more of violence at October's polls persist over concerns about the voter registration process.

The Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) says 41 percent of some 550,000 eligible voters have registered so far.

But the tally is only a third on the less-developed northern island of Pemba, the opposition's stronghold. Many CUF supporters there are unofficially boycotting registration.

Serious talks about a coalition government started in early 2007, but the parties have differed on how far they have progressed and on what has been promised.

Officials from both parties are cagey about details of any deal but a historic handshake between Hamad and Karume in November looked to have put the political rivals on a path to reconciliation.

Political analysts, however, are already questioning how long any secret deal between the leaders might last, saying that hardliners on both sides may try to scuttle an agreement.

CCM's spokesman in Zanzibar, Vuai Ali Vuai, was quick to dismiss calls by the opposition for an election postponement.

"The elections will go ahead as planned in October. There is absolutely no way that we are going to delay the polls as CUF is now suggesting," Vuai told Reuters by telephone from Zanzibar.

Vuai said it was unconstitutional for the president to stay on beyond his second and final term in office and a transitional government could only be formed if a referendum were held.

Reuters

Last Mod: 16 Ocak 2010, 17:43
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