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Tanzania went to the polls Sunday in the most closely contested election in its history and the first that poses a substantial challenge to its one-party rule.

East Africa’s most populous country and second-largest economy has been ruled by Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM, whose uninterrupted dominance since the late 1970s is now challenged by a cluster of opposition parties, the biggest of which is Chadema.

Polls suggested CCM, led by John Magufuli, was still going to clinch a victory over Edward Lowassa’s Chadema, albeit at a diminished share of the 239 parliamentary seats. But the majority of the country’s registered voters is younger than 35, and Ahmed Salim, senior analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said the youth vote could still hold surprises.

Results weren’t expected until late Tuesday or Wednesday.

The demographic makeup of the Tanzanian voters could hold lessons for politics across a young and dynamic continent ruled overwhelmingly by old men. Some 57% of registered voters are aged between 18 and 35, according to the Tanzanian National Electoral Committee, and their preferences for better employment prospects and more state services will have to be addressed.

Tanzania’s transition into a more contested election is a bright spot in African elections, where recently incumbents have been trying to fiddle with constitutions to stay in power longer. Departing President Jakaya Kikwete, 65 years old, is leaving his position according to the constitution, having served two five-year presidential terms since 2005.

CCM has dominated Tanzanian politics for more than half a century: The party was formed and started ruling in 1977 and has won every election since multiparty elections were held in 1995. Over the past year, a scandal related to the energy sector chipped away at CCM’s popularity, boosting Chadema’s chances. But CCM is now led by a new candidate, Mr. Magufuli, 56, who earned a reputation for being effective as minister for works and is so far untarnished by graft allegations.

Chadema’s presidential candidate, Mr. Lowassa, 62, once served as prime minister with CCM but defected to the opposition when CCM didn’t put him on the presidential ticket.

In the weeks leading up to the elections, climaxing on Saturday, tens of thousands turned out at colorful rallies dominated by younger voters, song and dance.

Analysts still stressed risks of tensions flaring up in some parts of the country, especially the semiautonomous island of Zanzibar, where opposition was pre-emptively challenging the electoral results if the incumbent wins, and promised to fight back.

Creating jobs and keeping up a healthy growth rate of 7% or higher will be the biggest challenges the new government will face.

The country has been moving toward the ballot box partially in the dark, as the past few weeks have seen prolonged power cuts in one of Africa’s biggest sources of natural gas. The country doesn’t produce enough energy to cover its needs, while its grid is badly managed. In recent weeks, droughts have halted electricity production in hydroelectric plants, leading to mass energy shortages.

Managing relationships with major oil-and-gas companies operating in Tanzania, such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp., will be a key challenge for the new president. Both candidates have campaigned on a promise of carving out a bigger stake for the state from the gas sector. But this would likely require renegotiation of the exploration contracts in place, and it isn’t clear that the winner would deliver on those promises and risk rapture with the companies.



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