Observing the October 2020 general elections in the United Republic of Tanzania

In keeping with the objects of the Dullah Omar Institute (DOI) to promote respect for democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law in Africa, the 2020 general elections in Tanzania presented a unique opportunity to observe whether these principles were practically implemented in the election processes.

The October 2020 general elections were the sixth to be held since the reintroduction of multi-party politics in Tanzania in 1992 and were the first elections to be fully funded by the government of Tanzania. Under the auspices of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), Ms Valma Hendricks, a team member of the Applied Constitutional Studies Laboratory at DOI was deployed as an election observer. What follows is a brief description of her experience.



As one of 14 international observers deployed as part of EISA’s International Election Observer Mission (IEOM) in Tanzania, I was excited by the prospect of being a part of the mission. The Mission leader was Advocate Pansy Dikeledi Tlakula, (former Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa) who currently serves as the Chairperson of the Information Regulator of South Africa. The 14 observers were deployed to seven regions in Tanzania and Zanzibar. I was deployed to the Dodoma Mjini region in Tanzania.

The legal framework for the conduct of elections in Tanzania is provided by the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977; the National Elections Act (NEA), 1985, and other legislation. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is the primary body that regulates and oversees election processes.  In addition to the key legal instruments, The Guidelines for Local and International Election Observers, 2020, was the key policy document regulating the conduct of observer missions.

Election campaigning began on 26 August until 27 October 2020 (the day before the elections took place) from 08.00 to 18.00 hours.

Accredited observers for the 2020 elections included;

  • Local observer institutions – 97.
  • International institutions -17
  • Sister Commissions invited by the NEC – 9
  • Embassies’ interpreters – 28


Electoral System

Since the 2015 elections voter registration has increased thus requiring more voting stations to be allocated per ward. Mainland Tanzania had 80,155 polling stations with each station not registering more than 500 voters. Zanzibar has 1,412 polling stations. The total number of polling station for the 2020 elections was thus 81, 567.

Tanzania’s electoral system is a combination of two electoral systems, that is: first-past-the-post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR).

The proportional representation system reserves special seats for women who are nominated by their political party for parliamentary seats and councillor seats.

The nomination process saw the following representation of candidates:

  • Presidential– male 13, female 2
  • Vice President– males 10, females 5
  • Members of Parliament - males 964, females 293.
  • Local Councillors’ – males 8,562, females 669

 As can be seen from the above, there are far fewer female candidates, compared to male candidates and there is room for improvement.


Election Day

Voting started at 07.00 am and ended at 16.00 hours. As stated above, I was deployed to Dodoma Mjini and the wards where I observed elections, include Chama, Mtumba and Ipagala. The main political parties represented in Dodoma Mjini include;

  • CCM – Chama Cha Mapinduzi
  • CHADEMA - Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo
  • UPDP – United People’s Democracy Party
  • ACT - Alliance for Change and Transparency


Election observation experience

I have been participating in election observation since 1994 with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa under the auspices of the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Since then I observed elections with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) as the need arises.

I observed the following elections:

Zimbabwe, March 2002

Zimbabwe, March 2008

Malawi, May 2009

Zambia, January 2015 and,

Lesotho, June 2017.


What I find interesting about observing missions is that I get to witness an election process and observe ordinary citizens exercising their basic human rights in accordance with the rule of law of the country. There is a pride and dignity that voters often express in exercising their right to vote. What is important is that no matter your standing in life, your vote holds equal weight and your vote can make a difference. Given, how important it is to exercise the right to vote is, it is necessary to ensure that all due process is followed so that the results are a true reflection of the voting process. Elections must be conducted in a credible and transparent manner, and observer missions assist to validate whether that has taken place.

By Valma Hendricks