There is every indication that the constitutional making process will be postponed to after 2025. That was the proposal of the working committee on democracy chaired by a university don Prof Rwekaza Mukandala that presented its report on March 21 at the State House.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan accepted the committee’s proposals but ordered the members to educate the public over the need to postpone. The committee cited several reasons for calling for the postponement of the constitutional process.
One of the major reasons that Prof Mukandala mentioned was that the time between now and the General Election of 2025 was too short for a meaningful process to take place and for the required reforms to be undertaken after the New Constitution is promulgated.
This reason sounded candid. It’s is true that making a New Constitution is a long, arduous process. It needs adequate time. President Samia also sounded genuine when she agreed with the committee’s proposals.
It is evident, however, that the news of the postponement of the New Constitution will be a big disappointment to a section of the opposition, led by CHADEMA, who had wanted the New Constitution immediately.
How their reaction will affect CHADEMA’s participation in the 2025 General Election remains to be seen.
But the issue is that postponing the constitutional making process would not offer any political relief whatsoever to the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party generally and to President Samia particularly.
It’s not a guarantee that going into 2025 with the current 1977 Constitution will give President Samia an upper hand in the elections.
In fact, President Samia’s true intentions to postpone the constitutional process would be thoroughly scrutinized by the electorate and could serve to hurt her or boost her in 2025.
The electorate is not dumb
The Tanzanian electorate is not silent. It is not dumb. The Tanzanian electorate, just like any electorate in the world, wants to make sure that their votes count. The electorate is carefully studying the political developments in the country to be able to make informed choices.
The forthrightness that President Samia showed when she agreed that the New Constitution should be postponed and the frankness she expressed when she called for a new beginning in Tanzanian politics after meeting CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe will be tested by her actions going forward.
She will have to show clarity on exactly what needs to be done to unleash political reforms in the medium term.
This clarity should be accompanied by a determination to heal the political divide in the country. She didn’t show that clarity on March 21 when she spoke about the independent electoral commission and political laws.
After receiving the report she directed the committee to study the issue of the independent electoral commission and present new proposals.
What does independent commission mean?
“About the independent electoral commission, you will have to bring us proposals,” Samia directed the task force. “What does independent commission mean? How should that kind of commission be structured?”
She added: “But look at examples of those countries with independent electoral commissions. Don’t they have political conflicts [during elections]? Our neighbours have the so-called independent electoral commissions. How do they run them?
“But when we say independent electoral commission what exactly do we want? What are we missing that we think we can get from an independent electoral commission?”
This is tricky for President Samia. She would have to understand and appreciate the sensitivities that surround the current electoral commission setup that is deemed partisan.
That the current electoral commission needs to be disbanded and a more independent one formed is no longer a subject for debate. Various stakeholders have already shown how a new electoral commission could be formed. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.
Draconian political laws
Another sensitive issue is that of draconian political laws. Here, again, President Samia must be fully informed and show determination in causing the much-needed reforms. In various forums, she has been talking about the need to fast-track the creation of regulations for the Political Parties Act to enable political activities to resume.
She repeated that statement at the March 21 event. Here she was not in sync with the committee itself, the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) and other stakeholders who say that the laws governing political activities, especially the Political Parties Act, is draconian and needs to be reviewed.
In fact, the chairperson of TCD Zitto Kabwe says the centre has already come up with two model bills that could be used as the basis for the overhaul of the current Act. Much as President Samia seems to have good intentions in opening up political activities in the country she should realize that the regulations of a bad law won’t do much to improve the original law.
How President Samia deals with these key reforms can be used to gauge how honest she was when she seconded the postponement of the New Constitution on March 21. Is it so as to buy more time or was it out of genuine concerns for the inadequate time needed to craft the mother law?
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.