Zanzibar is due to hold repeat elections on Sunday despite a promised opposition boycott following a controversial decision to annul October’s vote.
The Zanzibar Election Commission cancelled the results of the first poll but diplomats said they saw no evidence of the massive fraud alleged by commission chairman Mr Jecha Salim Jecha.
The annulment came after opposition Civic United Front (CUF) candidate Mr Seif Sharif Hamad declared himself the winner before the results were officially announced.
CUF leaders said the nullification was designed to block their party’s victory and deliver another win for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which dominates on the Tanzania mainland.
Zanzibar’s 500,000 registered voters also cast ballots for Tanzania’s national president and, despite the cancellation of the vote on the islands, new Tanzanian President John Magufuli was sworn into office last year.
Campaigning on Zanzibar has been subdued with public rallies banned to keep a lid on simmering tensions that frequently bubble over during elections on the semi-autonomous islands.
While the opposition CUF has called for a boycott of Sunday’s vote, CCM activists have been conducting door-to-door meet-and-greets and holding indoor hustings hoping to secure a clear victory for incumbent Zanzibar President Ali Mohamed Shien.
Jecha said everything was in place for the poll.
“We have ballot papers ready. There are 1,583 polling stations, and polling officers with materials ready. We ask people to get ready for the election,” he said, adding that the ballot papers were unchanged with CUF candidate Mr Hamad’s name still listed.
The rerun is expected to cost an estimated $3.4 million.
Sunday’s election is unlikely to ease political tensions in the islands, with the CCM concerned that a CUF victory could lead to the collapse of the 52-year-old union with mainland Tanzania.
In recent weeks, some homes have been burnt, people beaten and arrested and a homemade bomb was placed outside the island police chief’s home.
Senior CUF official Mr Nassor Ahmed Mazrui said claims of arson and bomb-making levelled at party members by police were baseless.
He accused police and a ruling party militia of targeting CUF supporters.
“The democratic future of Zanzibar is bleak,” said Mr Mazrui.
“There are violations of human rights just because we oppose the polls, but we will continue opposing them, even after the elections.”
Zanzibar’s police chief said the arrests were above board.
“We are looking for criminals, including those threatening people not to vote,” said Mr Hamdan Omar Makame.
“We have vowed to leave no stone unturned in making sure that the elections are peaceful. Those who are against the polls should remain indoors.”
A dozen other candidates are contesting but are not expected to pose a serious challenge to the two main parties.