Tanzania's ruling party, which has been in power for close to half a century, faces an energized opposition in national elections Sunday following corruption scandals that have undermined the government's popularity.
Opinion polls suggest Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is still likely to win re-election, though one survey showed his opponent leading though not by enough to avoid a runoff vote. It's a departure from 2005, when Kikwete won more than 80 percent of ballots cast.
He now faces first-time contender Wilbrod Slaa of the main opposition Party of Democracy and Development, known by its Kiswahili acronym, Chadema.
The state-owned broadcaster Tanzania Broadcasting Corp. reported people queued as early as 5 a.m. across the country to cast their votes Sunday and most polling stations opened on time.
Later, the station reported that most polling stations closed on time at 4 p.m. Calls to the chairman and spokesman of the National Electoral Commission went unanswered.
Peace Nyankojo, a pharmacist, told The Associated Press that voting went smoothly at her polling station in this northwestern town of Arusha, which is a tourism center in Tanzania.
"I had no hassles in the voting exercise. Everybody waited in a queue and exercised their constitutional right without any intimidation," she said.
Happy Lyatuu, a mother of three children and unemployed, said that she voted for the opposition Chadema candidate because she believed the party's promise to implement policies to tackle poverty.
"I have decided to vote for Chadema because I believe that they will be able to find a job for me to feed my children," Lyatuu, 29, said.
The governing Revolutionary Party, known by its Kiswahili abbreviation, CCM, has governed Tanzania since the country gained independence from Britain in 1961.
Kikwete and the governing party are seeking a new mandate to improve and expand infrastructure, increase foreign investment and fund and expand health programs. But Kikwete is also fighting perceptions that under his watch high-level corruption has increased. Kikwete has said he does not tolerate corruption.
A 2008 independent audit by an international firm found the central bank had paid out more than $120 million to 22 local firms, many of which were shell companies that are legally registered but did not transact any business. Kikwete fired the governor of the central bank at the time.
The other scam saw a parliamentary committee report that Tanzania signed a $172.5 million contract with a ghost U.S.-based company to supply emergency power generators to help the country cope with 2006 power shortages. The committee found the company did not exist and the generators came late or not at all. The prime minister and two other Cabinet ministers resigned following the 2008 parliamentary report.
Godwin Makongoro, a newspaper vendor, told the AP he was voting for CCM because the opposition's electoral promises are unrealistic.
"It's better to remain with a party I know better than to risk with the one I don't trust," said 32-year-old Makongoro.
Also up for grabs in Sunday's election are the presidency and regional assembly seats of the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, which in the past has witnessed violence between rival political parties that has killed dozens before and after elections.
Zanzibar is experiencing a rare peace during this election season because an August referendum brought down tensions when two-thirds of voters favored parties forming a coalition government after this month's elections.
Tanzania has consistently recorded high economic growth rates in recent years, registering an average rate of 7.3 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. It has become the largest producer of gold on the continent, is rich in diamonds and has significant natural gas reserves.
But still the average Tanzanian remains poor, with the IMF projecting the country's annual average income for 2010 will be $480.
Political scientist Mwesiga Baregu thinks neither Kikwete nor CCM can change Tanzania and address its problems because they have become complacent.
"The country needs a complete overhaul of leadership to lift the country out of rampant poverty and economic underdevelopment," said Baregu, who teaches at St. Augustine University in Tanzania.