Tanzania’s president John Magufuli hopes to win another five-year term when the East African nation holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Wednesday, amid criticism from rights groups that the government is stifling political dissent.

Magufuli’s main challengers include Tundu Lissu, who was shot 16 times in 2017, and former foreign minister Bernard Membe. The attack on Lissu, who returned from three years in exile in July, has never been solved.

East Africa’s third-largest economy has recorded average growth of close to 7% over the last four years, according to official figures, as the government invested billions of dollars in infrastructure including a new railway, a hydropower dam and planes for the national airline.

The government projects economic growth of 5.5% in 2020 after COVID-19 hit key sectors such as tourism. The World Bank, predicts expansion of only 2.5%.

Magufuli is promising voters that his infrastructure projects will fuel growth of at least 8%. His party has already won 28 parliamentary seats where their candidates are unopposed, the electoral commission said.

Opposition leader Lissu has frequently criticized Magufuli’s economic management and human rights record and promises to “return freedom, justice, respect of human rights and [to]improve people’s development rather than infrastructure development.”

The ruling party CCM, a version of which has held power since independence in 1961, won the presidency with 58% of votes in 2015 and currently holds about three-quarters of parliamentary seats. Tanzania uses a first-past-the post system.

More than 29 million people are registered to vote out of 58 million citizens. They will choose from 15 presidential candidates and elect representatives for 264 parliamentary seats.

The opposition and rights groups say authorities have cracked down on critical voices by closing down media outlets and banning public rallies during Magufuli’s first term.

Last week, a coalition of 65 international rights groups including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations, issued a letter critical of the government.

“Tanzania’s criminal justice system has … been misused to target those who criticize the government,” the letter read. “Non-governmental organisations working on human rights issues have been deregistered or are facing harassment.”

Opposition parties said police disrupted their campaigns and electoral authorities disqualified dozens of their parliamentary candidates.

The government has previously denied any crackdown and the National Electoral Commission has rejected accusations of unfair treatment.

Source : Reuters