Dar es Salaam. Key stakeholders in Tanzania’s multiparty democracy gather here for a two-day national stakeholders’ conference to reflect on the state of democracy in the country as it heads to the civic and general elections in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
Happening under the auspices of the Tanzania Centre of Democracy (TCD), a non-profit political parties’ membership organisation working to enhance multiparty democracy in the country, the two-day conference brought together representatives from political parties, the government, CSOs, and development partners.
The conference, happening on August 22 and August 23, 2023, follows that on justice, peace and reconciliation, which TCD, formed by parties with representation in the parliament, organised between March 30 and March 31, 2022, in the capital Dodoma.
This year’s conference by TCD, currently under the chairmanship of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), managed to ensure the participation of all of the organisation’s members, which included opposition party CHADEMA, which had boycotted the think tank’s earlier initiatives.
On Tuesday, the first day of the conference, participants deliberated on the state of multiparty democracy in the country, with the major theme being the unlevelled playing field that political parties are supposed to operate in Tanzania, with opposition parties complaining that the field is tilted in favour of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, TCD chairperson and national chairperson of the opposition CUF party, said in his inaugural speech that Tanzania is far from having a multiparty democracy that serves the interests of many, noting that there remain serious challenges that prevent free and fair elections in the country.
Lipumba, one of Tanzania’s celebrated economists, pointed to the 2020 general elections, which opposition parties and independent observers described as neither free nor fair, to show how the country’s democratic institutions are weak to prevent the violation of people’s will to elect who they want.
“Opposition candidates were deregistered en-masse on spurious grounds,” Prof Lipumba told the conference’s participants. “We are yet to build a strong democracy in Tanzania. This does not bode well for our system of governance. Unless serious reforms happen, I see darkness when I look ahead.”
Tuesday’s conference comes at a time when demands for major reforms in the way Tanzania manages its political affairs are increasingly gaining momentum, with almost all key stakeholders agreeing that the best way to deliver those reforms is for President Samia Suluhu Hassan to revive the stalled constitution-writing process.
Samia, who came to power on March 19, 2023, has promised Tanzanians to revive the process, but she has fallen short of providing a timetable that would outline when exactly the process will begin, a question that stakeholders have been impatiently waiting for an answer.
John Mnyika, whose CHADEMA party has been at the forefront of demanding the revival of the process, said during the conference Tuesday that as the nation is procrastinating to deliver the New Constitution that would redefine the relations between the government and the people, much-sought reforms are also being delayed.
He criticised a recent statement by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Damas Ndumbaro that the process would begin by educating the public about the current 1977 constitution, saying the government is misdirecting itself in a way that would cost the nation.
“This is not a good direction,” Mr Mwinyika, CHADEMA’s secretary-general, told participants. “What was supposed to be done was for the government to send a bill to the parliament to revive the stalled process. I think the government should stop what it is planning and instead acts according to stakeholders’ views.”
But while others support the call for the New Constitution, they are worried that the document might still be absent when people go to the polls in 2024 and 2025, suggesting that reforming key electoral institutions should be a priority ahead of elections.
Opposition ACT Wazalendo party belongs to this group, with its national chairperson Juma Duni Haji telling the conference’s participants that it is essential that Tanzanians are provided with an independent electoral commission before the civic elections of 2024.
“It is essential that the civic elections are managed by an independent electoral commission, unlike now where PO-RALG oversees them,” Mr Duni explained. “Also, we must amend the National Election Act before 2023 ends. We need legal instruments to ensure free and fair elections during the elections.”
Duni’s proposals align with the suggestions of the presidential task force on multiparty democracy given to President Samia Suluhu Hassan on October 21, 2022. The task force recommended for key electoral laws be amended according to stakeholders’ views to ensure that elections in 2024 and 2025 happen in a free and fair environment.
It is unclear when the government is planning to table these laws, including the National Election Act and the Political Parties Act, to the parliament for amendment. Their fast-tracking was one of several suggestions shared at Tuesday’s conference.
Speaking during the conference, CCM deputy chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Abdulrahman Kinana acknowledged democratic improvements that Tanzania had registered over time, describing them as “huge by every measure.”
“But are there some shortcomings? I think there are, and everything good has its shortcomings,” Mr Kinana said. Our laws have several shortcomings, but there are also shortcomings in enforcing those laws during elections.”