DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania’s presidential candidates wrapped up their election campaigns with song and dance at big final rallies on Saturday, with the ruling party and the opposition vowing to lift millions out of poverty and end rampant corruption.
The ruling Chame Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, in power since Tanzania gained independence in 1961, faces its biggest test in more than half a century in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary polls.
Two major polls and analysts have forecast a victory for John Magufuli, the CCM candidate, but many expect the ruling party’s parliamentary majority to be trimmed after the opposition had united behind a single candidate, Edward Lowassa.
The campaigning has exposed public frustration with the pace of change in an East African nation endowed with gas and mineral deposits but lagging other regional economies.
“It is a shame for Tanzania to still be poor after 54 years of independence,” Lowassa told tens of thousands of jubilant supporters in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam.
“We must stop being a nation of beggars,” he added, after singing a Christian hymn along with vast crowds of mainly young men waving “time for change” placards.
Magufuli, the country’s works minister, has also presented himself as a candidate of change and even criticised the slow pace of progress by the government of outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete, who will step down after two terms in office.
At a rally in Mwanza, about 1,100 km (688 miles) northwest of Dar es Salaam, Magufuli vowed to end chronic power shortages crippling Tanzanian businesses and make use of vast gas discoveries to spur employment in the nation of 47 million people.
“My government will put emphasis on fighting corruption, job creation and industrialisation,” Magufuli told supporters in a packed 35,000-capacity Mwanza stadium.
Magufuli, who sang and danced after his Mwanza speech, has portrayed himself as no-nonsense politician who gets things done. His supporters call him ‘the bulldozer’ after the 55-year-old forged a reputation for building desperately needed roads across the expansive nation.
Lowassa, the 62-year-old former premier leading the opposition presidential bid, quit CCM in July after the party spurned him as their candidate.
The incoming president will face immediate pressure to lower stubbornly high poverty rates, do more to encourage investment and shake off Tanzania’s reputation for letting bureaucracy hamper development.
Plans for a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant also appear to have stalled, a major concern in a nation where the gas discoveries are expected to turbo-charge development.
Kikwete, who had urged against violence in the lead up to the polls, sought to calm nerves by reassuring Tanzanians that the election would pass off peacefully.
“Anyone who tries to cause trouble will be dealt with,” he said.
Editing by Richard Balmforth