The resignation of Job Ndugai as Speaker of Parliament has been received with mixed feelings. A good number of political activists have been elated. They say that the ‘violations’ of Speaker’s powers and privileges that he presided over and his failure to protect Parliament’s independence from the Executive during President John Magufuli’s reign have come back to haunt him.
Others, on the other hand, are of the view that the stepping-down of the Speaker, out of pressure from the Executive, is bad precedence for the separation of powers in the country. Much of the debate over the Ndugai saga has centred on the separation of powers in government in Tanzania.
Many of those engaging in this debate, however, have not been able to appreciate the current situation as it is and have, therefore, not succeeded in putting the saga into context.
As a result, the debate over separation of powers has focused on what should be, ideally, and not from how it is on the ground; the current reality in Tanzania.
Hence the debate fails to move from the situation as it is to what should be next for Tanzania. It is evident that the Ndugai saga is not purely constitutional, it is largely political.
The issue is not much about the separation of powers but has more to do with the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM)party’s internal politics. It is clear that the official relationship and interactions between the Executive and the Legislature should be constitutional in nature.
It is also true that the lines separating the three arms of government in Tanzania, the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary, are blurred constitutionally and practically. And it is obvious that comprehensive constitutional changes are necessary to institutionalise the separation of powers in order to ensure veritable checks and balances in Tanzania.
But the debate over Tanzania’s constitutional deficiencies did not start with Ndugai’s resignation. Would what happened to Ndugai occur if the Speaker of Parliament was from the Opposition? This is a difficult hypothetical question to answer because the Opposition cannot elect a Speaker in Parliament without having a majority.
Those who think Tanzania can have a constitution that says that the Speaker must come from the Opposition do not consider the complexities of politics. It is almost impossible for that to happen. It is the party that has a majority in Parliament that chooses the Speaker.
Example from mature democracies
Even in mature democracies in Western Europe and in the USA where the constitutional separation of powers is entrenched, still, the relationships and interactions between the Speaker of Parliament and the President or Prime Minister are determined by politics whenever the two come from the same party.
When the ruling party gets the majority in Parliament or in the House of Representatives, which gives it an opportunity to produce the Speaker, the understanding is usually that the particular political party has gained a wide mandate to pass and oversee its agenda in the country.
The Speaker would and is normally expected, to work closely with the President to implement the political party’s election Manifesto. This is what happened in the US when President Barack Obama was the President of the country and Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House of Representatives.
It is what happens now with Pelosi as Speaker and Joseph Biden as President. Checks and balances in a situation where the Speaker belongs to the ruling party are always difficult to enforce even in mature democracies. That is probably why many of these democracies have a bicameral parliamentary system, the upper house (Senate or House of Lords) and the lower house (House of Representatives or House of Commons).
These two layers of the Legislature increase the checks and balances. In the case of the USA, it could be nearly impossible to impeach President Biden now when the Speaker of Parliament comes from his own party.
It is not to say that tensions can never arise between the President and Speaker who come from the same party! Tensions do occur and sometimes spill over to the public, specifically, if the two belong to different ideological spectrums within the same party.
There would be tensions, for example, if President Biden who is from the centre-right had Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who comes from the extreme left of the Democratic Party, as Speaker. In an extreme case, it would not be farfetched for the Speaker to resign out of pressure from the President who, in the case of politics in America, is the head of the party.
That is why it is paramount for the debate on the Ndugai saga to be situated in context. The New Constitution might not solve some of the perceived weaknesses in the separation of powers if many of the accompanying political intricacies are not well understood and taken care of whether it demands providing for a bicameral Parliament like in is the case with Kenya or not.
It is apparent that there is infighting going on within CCM as groups and individuals jostle for power. The infighting, with eyes on 2025 and 2030, is not new in CCM.
Towards 1995, 2005 and 2015 the infighting involved factions. It is not clear whether factions have made a comeback. There are strong speculations that they have.
The infighting explains what has happened to Ndugai as President Samia Suluhu Hassan said when she chided him for his comments on the national debt a few days before his resignation.
One-party system still reigns
If tensions between President Samia and Ndugai and the eventual resignation of the latter were a breach of the independence of the Legislature by the Executive it would be because the Parliament as it is now is still a de facto Committee of the ruling party, CCM.
Before the reintroduction of multiparty politics, the Bunge was officially a committee in CCM, and it functioned as such. After 1992 both Tanzania and the CCM constitutions were amended to remove the Parliament from being an organ of the party. But this was just on paper. In reality, the Bunge has remained a committee of the party.
The bitter truth is that CCM stalwarts have never accepted multiparty politics as a fact of life. It was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who urged CCM to accept the IMF and World Bank’s pressure for multiparty system. They accepted half-heartedly more because they badly wanted the IMF/World Bank money.
The reluctance to accept multiparty politics explains the CCM’s rebuff of demands for the New Constitution. It also explains the successful efforts by President Magufuli’s government to remove, from the respective Statutes, the rights of the Opposition to conduct public political activities.
What happened to Ndugai was made possible because, in essence, Tanzania still operates under the single-party system that has no separation of powers between the different arms of government.
This should be clear by many of those engaged in the Ndugai saga debate who express shock over dangerous breaches of the independence of the Legislature by the Executive as it if is a new thing.
Until Tanzania becomes a de facto multiparty country the “breach” of the independence of the Legislature and even of the Judiciary by the Executive will continue.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.