Zanzibar made history last Saturday by overwhelmingly endorsing constitutional changes in a referendum that will pave the way for the formation of a government of national unity later this year.
Such a government will be the first ever in the country since the armed revolution that rooted out the Arab Sultan rulers in the early sixties, and also in the modern times following the introduction of multiparty politics in Tanzania in 1992.
The momentous verdict was issued by 188,705 voters who participated in the exercise at 66.4 per cent against 95,613 at 33.6 per cent of those who were not in favour of the outcome that will now significantly alter the way politics is played in Zanzibar.
Political leaders, representatives of the donor community and even the common man on the streets have immediately welcomed the referendum outcome, with a majority saying it would finally guarantee peace and tranquillity in the Isles that had hitherto remained perilous every election year.
But as the dust settles, different interest groups will take stock of what transpired on the campaign trail and what the final result would mean for their role in the future of Zanzibar. Some are not entirely ruling out new political realignments prior to and after the October 31 General Election.
"It was a positive vote for unity by the people but as observers we could not fail to notice that deep antagonism, mainly within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi remained," explained Dr Benson Bana, the Chairman of Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee and also head of the University of Dar es Salaam's Research for Democracy and Education in Tanzania (Redet).
That voters on Pemba Island regions gave an emphatic 'Yes' vote and are still the more enthusiastic of the new political order than their colleagues in Unguja Island may have not been entirely surprising. As in the past elections, Pemba has tended to vote for the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) to the last man standing and in the referendum sided with their leaders who campaigned for 'Yes'.
The opposition's supremacy in the referendum results showed that the people of Mtambwe District in North Pemba Region, the home town of Mr Seif Hamad, the CUF leader, had the highest Yes votes, with 95.1 per cent of the 5324 people who cast their votes. Mr Hamad is CUF's secretary general and will run for the presidency under the party in the October 31 general election.
"The people in Pemba voted the way they did because they know this was their only chance to end decades long feeling of alienation from government. They are the ones who have suffered more and paid the huge cost of a system of winner takes all despite the fact that polling results divided Zanzibar into two, almost equal parts," said businessman Said Mohammed said.
Mr Hamad has already been nominated by his party to run for the Presidency in what would be his fourth attempt. Having served as Chief Minister in the CCM government, the opposition leader has not shied from admitting that deliberately skewed government planning have consigned Pemba to poverty due to past political rivalry.
For the sake of this huge constituency, Mr Hamad, who alongside President Amani Abeid Karume engineered the final and significant push for reconciliation and tagged alongside the President to campaign for 'Yes', was at hand to welcome the victory last Saturday.
He declared; "This is a win for Zanzibar, its people and the united republic of Tanzania." President Karume whose extra energy to drive through the vote was pleased with the voters who have given him what political commentators say would be one of his presidency's most important legacy.
While this task is almost done, the remaining few days could prove trickier if divisions within CCM that played out ahead of the referendum are anything to go by. In Zanzibar today, it was expected that Karume could after all now have reason to whip those in CCM's inner circles and in government who gave lukewarm support for the referendum.
A District Commissioner in the seat of government was last week sent packing in a move linked more to his remarks critical of the government's campaigning for a 'Yes' vote. "I will not be surprised if that did happen but what is dangerous for CCM will be what kind of realignments that could follow if he was to sack ministers in the last days in office," a senior party official who requested to remain anonymous said.
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