Dar es Salaam. Calls for Tanzania to reform its much-criticised Political Parties Act of 2019 received a boost from the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) on Friday after the treaty-based judicial body upheld its 2022 ruling that some sections of the law violates the treaty establishing the East African Community (EAC).
The latest development comes following an appeal that Tanzania filed at the regional court, seeking to overturn a ruling it made on March 25, 2022, that gave victory to leaders of opposition parties Zitto Kabwe, the late Seif Sharif Hamad, Freeman Mbowe, Hashim Rungwe, and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) who together challenged the law.
On Friday, EACJ threw away the appeal filed by Tanzania’s Attorney General, upholding its earlier ruling that provisions of sections 3, 4, 5, 9, 15, and 29 of the Political Parties Act of 2019 violate Articles 6(d), 7(2) and 8(1)(c) of the treaty establishing the EAC, directing the government to take necessary measures to bring the law into conformity with the treaty.
Being one of the controversial pieces of legislation passed during the previous administration, the law has been criticised for constituting an unjustified restriction of democracy, good governance, and freedom of association.
Specifically, the law has been criticised for giving the Registrar of Political Parties power to monitor intra-party elections and nomination process, violating freedom of association, democracy, and the rule of law.
The law has also been criticised for centralising civic education and capacity-building training to the Registrar of Political Parties, a decision critics think is unjustifiable and contrary to the freedom of expression and access to information.
Reacting to the court’s decision on Friday, LHRC Executive Director Anna Henga said the ruling proves that the Political Parties Act goes against all universally acceptable democratic principles, calling for its repealing.
“This law does not allow equal participation in democratic processes to all citizens,” Henga told The Chanzo during an interview. “It is a law that deserves to be immediately scrapped from the country’s law books.”
Friday’s decision arrived at a time when a process to amend all repressive political and electoral laws is underway in Tanzania, as it was recommended by a presidential task force on the best way to improve multiparty democracy in the country.
It is part of President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s project to reconcile all political and democratic stakeholders to build a unified, fair, and democratic Tanzania, a goal that has seen authorities contemplating reviving the stalled constitution-writing process.
Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo and among those who challenged the law in court, called the court’s decision a “milestone,” writing on Twitter that the decision is another “stronger reason to write a new political parties law.”
“Thank you so much to the LHRC for [their] continued advocacy by taking action,” Mr Kabwe said. “I’m encouraged to continue using all available avenues to pursue reforms we want to see in this country.”
Mr Fulgence Massawe, a lawyer from LHRC who represented the applicants in the case, told The Chanzo on Friday that he welcomes the court’s decision, calling it a step in the right direction.
“This law creates a very tough legal environment for political parties,” Mr Massawe said. “And you know, when political parties are restricted in doing their work, that directly impacts democracy, and we all become victims.”
Another lawyer in the case, Jebra Kambole, called on the government to respect the rule of law and implement the court’s decision to amend the Political Parties Act of 2019 accordingly.
Mr Kambole’s suggestion is informed by past experiences where the government has been criticised for not implementing courts’ decisions, especially when its interests are at heart.
“As lawyers, we have succeeded in proving to the people of Tanzania and the international community that this law violates all acceptable democratic values,” he told The Chanzo during an interview. “The ball is now in the government’s court.”
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.