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Tundu Lissu's return prompts first opposition rallies for seven years

Questions arise about extent of political reform and media freedom ahead of national elections in 2025

The opposition Chadema party celebrated Tundu Lissu's return to Tanzania after five years in effective exile in Belgium with its first mass campaign rally since 2016, weeks after President Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted the ban on political gatherings, imposed by her predecessor John Magufuli in 2016 (Dispatches 21/3/22, Exiles return and investors take a look a year after Magufuli's death).

The lifting of the campaign ban, the release of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe after months of imprisonment on terrorism charges and the government's promise to reopen political space have given opposition parties hope that President Samia will restore some semblance of democracy after Magufuli's autocracy.

Ministers have hinted that the next step in opening political space will be amending the country's restrictive media laws, though no further details about the proposed changes have emerged.

Lissu is likely to seek Chadema's nomination for the 2025 presidential election (AC Vol 58 No 20, Magufuli on the warpath). He was shot multiple times in a political assassination attempt five years ago after which he was taken to Belgium for critical surgery.

Rallies were held in Mwanza and Mara in the party's Lake Victoria strongholds days before cheering crowds greeted Lissu's arrival in Dar es Salaam. In Mwanza, Mbowe said that opposition campaigning would now focus on pushing the government to rewrite the electoral law and open a review of the constitution in time for local elections next year.

Insiders say President Samia will continue with incremental reforms. But few expect her government to conclude the much-demanded constitutional reforms before the 2025 elections although it may make reforms to the electoral system.

Against a backdrop of better economic performance and diplomatic fence-mending in the region, President Samia, who took over after the death of Magufuli in March 2021 is expected to seek her first full term as President in the 2025 elections



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