In an unprecedented move, the Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai had resigned. There has been a lot of discussion about the reasons for his resignation but it’s clear it was the pressure from the executive. You can visit this timeline to jog your memory regarding the sequence of events.
Ndugai’s fall is the making of his own hands. Over the past five years, he has spent all of his time making sure the parliament is completely under the executive arm, pushing it away from the people it represents. At the time when the Speaker was in need of people’s support, no one was at his corner.
In a space of three days of loggerhead with the executive, Ndugai was out. But what does it mean to our politics? Ndugai being extremely unpopular there is a critical debate that is being shoved under the rug, the debate about how independent is our parliament and what should be done.
For a week now, CCM has started an internal process for finding a person who will contest for Speakership. From university students, comedians/influencers, party cadres to retired leaders, and even the Deputy Speaker have all come out to contest for the post internally.
To people who are not interested in politics, it’s easy to think that CCM is the only eligible party for the post. On the side of the opposition, there has been little interest in the post and the process which in my opinion I think it’s a mistake.
With the parliament that is full-packed with CCM, it’s obvious they are going to decide who is going to be the next Speaker. But up to now, they have done more than that, CCM also has an upper hand about the whole narrative in getting the new Speaker.
Yesterday, January 14, 2021, it’s was a social media influencer that took the form of contesting the post internally and there is a whole debate about it. Yesterday it was some of the party heavyweight, and a day before that a university student. Intentionally or not CCM is clouding the public space with their show and that is a good thing for CCM, it reduces the unknown and any critical debate.
Opportunity to push for parliament independence
In a country where the only time that we can see serious civic education is during the election, political events provide a key platform for just that.
As we are waiting for a new speaker, it’s ample time for the opposition, activists, and other stakeholders to raise key questions about parliament, hammering the debate on parliament independence and representation of the people.
CHADEMA tried to use the opportunity for raising key debate, but the momentum was not sustained, “At least since 1962 when [Tanzania] became a republic, our country has been run from the State House of the president,” said Party Vice-Chairman Tundu Lissu in an online press conference. “Other organs – the parliament and the judiciary – have been operating under the huge shadow of the president.”
Another party, NCCR-Mageuzi also joined the debate but in a course that in my opinion, I think it’s unproductive. The leader of the NCCR party, James Mbatia thinks Ndugai’s resignation was unconstitutional and wants to take the case to court.
“Now [Mr] Ndugai [on Thursday] tendered his resignation letter to CCM Secretary-General [Daniel Chongolo and not to the parliament as the constitution demands],” said Mr. Mbatia. “Ours is not CCM’s parliament but that of the United Republic of Tanzania. The entire process of Ndugai’s resignation is invalid and unconstitutional.”
In his announcement to the press, Ndugai said that he had submitted his resignation letter to Party Secretary and submitted a copy to parliament; the letter itself was not released to the public.
I don’t know how Mbatia is going to argue his case if he takes this to court, but building a whole case based on the format of the letter, that the address was not on top, middle or bottom left that will be an audacious task and to be honest, I don’t think it’s worthy his energy.
Outside the debates above, it will also be reasonable to have parties that can also hold their own process for Speakership, although this is always a matter of controversy to opposition parties because of the legitimacy question of the current parliament.
Push for an executive to make some concessions
We can not kid ourselves that our parliament is that effective or independent, but we have to try to make it work somehow. Now, the executive has triumphed in this wrangle with the former Speaker and we are expecting a new Speaker. There should be some pressure to at least have a house that is working, a little hope could go a long way.
In her own words in April 2021, President Samia said that she expects parliament to do its oversight role. Amidst songs of triumphs, it’s easy for this to be forgotten adding with loyalty and alignment tests inside CCM, we cannot really rely on the ruling party to look at the welfare of the parliament.
If there is enough public opinion and concerns about parliament’s health, it will be a good push to the executive to make some concessions on the power project in parliament and not just pack it.
As things stand, CCM has the playground and they also set the narrative, probably we are going to get someone with the same mentality as that of Ndugai, god-forbid, it’s the current Deputy Speaker, who has a proven track record of very poor leadership in parliament.
As much as it’s the parliament that decides who is going to be the Speaker, the process has to be tested in the court of public opinion. And this can be done by stakeholders coming out and owning the process on their own terms. This is through raising awareness, engaging with the media, any program that will make the process publicly inclusive and not just a CCM project.
Tony Alfred K is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @tonyalfredk. These are the writer’s own opinions and they do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.