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Tanzania counts votes after poll challenging dominance of ruling party

A street in Dar es salaam, Tanzania   -  
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Tanzania is counting votes after polls in its high-stakes election closed on Wednesday evening. President Joseph Magufuli, eyeing a second five-year term, voted in the country's new capital of Dodoma.

A total of 29 million voters were registered to vote in 80,115 polling stations, where they had to choose between 15 presidential candidates and 399 seats in Parliament, in addition to the councilors.

"I call on Tanzanians to come out in large numbers today and vote for the decision that everyone has in their hearts. I must also emphasize the need to preserve peace as a nation, because life will go on after the elections. May God bless all the voters and may God bless Tanzania", said Magufuli shortly after casting his ballot.

But even as he made the appeal for peace, the oppsotion was accusing the country's security agencies of blocking its agents at polling stations.

In Dar es salaam, a female parliamentary candidate for the opposition Chadema party was arrested by police before being released later on Wednesday.

Magufuli's main challenger Tundu Lissu claimed that he had received reports of widespread ballot stuffing.

In semi-autonomous Zanzibar, the opposition said its members had found ballots pre-marked for President Magufuli.

“We have seen a lot of problems in this election. One of them is that we have discovered in different polling stations. We have seen these ballot papers, and we have caught some people with these papers. One person is given maybe ten or fifteen, or up to twenty and there are some people who came today in the morning to report to us that they had been given ten votes to vote at the time”, said Muhene Said Rashid, deputy secretary of the elections for the opposition party ACT Wazalendo.

First results expected immediately

Tanzania's National Election Commission (NEC) chairman Judge Semistocles Kaijage dismissed the reports of pre-ticked ballot as false, according to The Citizen, a local newspaper.

The director of the National Electoral Commission (CNE), Wilson Mahela, explained that they will begin to count the results of the presidential election tonight, as they continue to meet at all the polling stations in the country.

"We expect that they will announce (the results) of the other votes for the members of Parliament and the councilmen any time today, after the closing" of the voting centers, Mahela said.

Long considered a haven of stability in East Africa, say Tanzania has seen the stifling and a crackdown on freedom of speech under the 60-year-old Magufuli and his Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, which has been in power since 1961.

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