The semi-autonomous African archipelago of Zanzibar will hold a July vote on whether to change its constitution to allow rival parties to form coalition governments, after a decade of bitter party politics.
The July 31 ballot is aimed at ending recurring bouts of political violence that have marred elections since the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party won a fiercely disputed poll in 2000. Reconciliation talks have faltered several times.
But a gradual rapprochement between the CCM and its once bitter rival, the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), late last year has led to talk from both about a cross-party government.
The constitution of Zanzibar, an island group in the Indian Ocean off Africa’s east coast that is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, has no provisions for a power-sharing agreement and would have to be changed to allow a cross-party government.
“The electoral commission will take a leading role in reaching out to voters for this new concept to be understood,” Khatib Mwinyichande, chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, told reporters.
Polls on the palm-fringed islands off Tanzania were tainted by bloodshed and allegations of vote rigging in 2000 and 2005, and three sets of reconciliation talks between the two main political parties had previously stalled.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete has described the archipelago as the “Achilles’ heel” of the otherwise peaceful country of 40 million people.
If the referendum is passed then the constitution would be amended in time for October’s presidential and parliamentary votes in both Zanzibar and Tanzania.
The leaders of both the CCM and CUF have urged their supporters to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum although a right wing section of the ruling party is spearheading a ‘no’ campaign.
Voter registration on Zanzibar ended earlier this month.
During the process the ZEC reported clear cases of fraud with voters registering two or three times in different places. The opposition has claimed thousands of its members were unable to register.