The front-runner for Tanzania’s presidential election, Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete, collapsed on Tuesday at a final campaign rally apparently suffering from heat exhaustion.
Analysts say he is virtually assured of victory at Wednesday’s vote, a result which would extend the ruling party’s four-decade grip on east Africa’s largest nation.
Kikwete, 55, was addressing about 8,000 ruling party supporters at an open ground on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam when he went quiet then fell over on the podium, drawing gasps from the shocked crowd, a Reuters witness said.
He was then carried off and taken to hospital in a convoy of 10 vehicles in the most dramatic incident of an otherwise low-key election campaign.
Minutes after Kikwete’s fall, Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa told the crowd not to worry because he had simply succumbed to heat and thirst. Kikwete had been at the rally for about two and a half hours and had been speaking for some 30 minutes.
“Don’t worry. Our candidate is well. He was tired and asked for water,” Mkapa said from the podium.
“The guards did not get it to him on time.”
The president, a favorite of Western donors who is standing down after two terms in office, then asked people to leave.
'Too much pressure'
Kikwete supporters expressed relief the incident did not appear too serious as they streamed out in an orderly fashion.
“There’s too much pressure on him. God will help him, He’s dehydrated, that’s the problem I think,” said Simon Mroki, a 27-year-old street vendor.
Supporter John Kimati added: “It’s hot and he’s tired from all the campaigning ... I will still vote for him.”
To demonstrate his health was intact, Kikwete’s aides said he would give a news conference later on Tuesday.
Democratic process working
About 16 million people are registered to vote in Wednesday’s presidential, parliamentary and local government elections which had previously been scheduled for Oct. 30 but were postponed after the death of a senior opposition candidate.
Mkapa is constitutionally bound to step down after two terms — still a relatively rare occurrence on a continent where incumbent “Big Men” have frequently re-written charters or used other means to prolong their stays in power.
Surveys give Kikwete, a smooth-talking former military officer, a seemingly unbeatable lead to replace Mkapa.
Opposition parties are, however, likely to make small strides in winning more parliamentary seats, analysts say.
The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM or “Party of the Revolution“) — and its predecessor the Tanganyika African National Union — has held power since independence from Britain in 1961.