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Stakeholders Resolve to Proceed With Minimum Constitutional Reforms Ahead of Elections

They want an independent electoral commission, independent candidacy, challenging of the presidential elections in court, and a requirement that a presidential candidate should win by 51 per cent.

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Dar es Salaam. Key stakeholders in Tanzania’s movement for the New Constitution resolved here Wednesday to proceed with minimum constitutional reforms, arguing that the remaining time is too short to start a constitution-writing process and finalise it before the civic and general elections in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

The stakeholders, which include the government, political parties, civil society organisations, and development partners, reached the decision during the just-concluded two-day gathering in Dar es Salaam that the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) organised to reflect on the state of multiparty democracy in Tanzania.

Reading the resolutions to over 200 participants of the gathering, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, the chairperson of TCD, a non-profit political parties’ membership organisation working to enhance multiparty democracy in the country, said the stakeholders agreed that they’d be lying to themselves to think that they can have the New Constitution before 2024.

“This conference has, therefore, resolved that there is a need for minimum reforms to be undertaken in the [1977] constitution, which would expand the democratic space in the country before the elections,” Lipumba, who doubles as the national chairperson of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party, said. “Those reforms will ensure wider citizens’ participation in the elections.”

READ MORE: Stakeholders Gather in Dar to Reflect on State of Democracy Ahead of Civic, General Elections

The minimum reforms that stakeholders have resolved to incorporate into the current constitution are a provision that allows for an independent electoral commission and independent candidacy. Also, the constitution should allow presidential elections to be challenged in court, and a presidential candidate should garner 51 per cent of the vote to be declared a winner.

These are the same reforms stakeholders recommended in 2014 after realising that people would go to civic elections that year and the general election in 2015 without the New Constitution, whose process began in 2011 following a promise by former President Jakaya Kikwete.

The reforms never happened, forcing Tanzanians to go to the elections under the current constitution of 1977, an election which gave the late John Magufuli of Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) a presidential victory. Mr Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, declined to proceed with the constitution-making process, saying it was not one of his priorities.

The Second Draft of the Constitution, which is waiting for a referendum, was approved by the Constituent Assembly on October 8, 2014, after a heated debate that stemmed from issues such as the structure of the Union, leading to the coalition of opposition parties, UKAWA, to walk out and boycott the process.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who came to power on March 19, 2021, promised to deliver to Tanzanians the New Constitution but fell short of specifying when exactly the process would resume. It is now clear to key democratic actors that the document cannot be available before 2025, demanding that authorities implement key reforms to deliver free and fair civic and general elections.

READ MORE: ‘Katiba Mpya’ Process in Tanzania: Past, Present and Future

Some of the recommended reforms have received backing from regional courts in a way that key actors have interpreted as a boost to their demands for an improved democratic space in Tanzania. This includes the need for amending key electoral and political laws to ensure more involvement of people in democratic processes.

This includes a call by the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) for authorities to amend the Political Parties Act of 2019 and the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) ruling that the National Election Act be amended. In both instances, the regional instruments ruled that the law violated treaties establishing them and violated universal democratic principles.

READ MORE: Excitement As Tanzania’s Political Reformers Get Boost From EACJ

ALSO READ: African Court Orders Tanzania to Amend Election, Criminal Justice Laws

The need to fast-track amendments to these pieces of legislation also made its way to the resolutions of key stakeholders read Wednesday by Prof Lipumba after the conference. Stakeholders resolved that a bill of minimum reforms to the constitution and one on the amendments to these laws could be sent together to the parliament for action.

Prof Lipumba said that would not be the first time such a thing happened in Tanzania, reminding people that the same occurred in 1991 when Tanzania reintroduced a multiparty system, where changes were made to the constitution and key laws.

“Because time is very short, and it does not allow us to address these issues separately,” Mr Lipumba said while reading the conference’s resolutions. “Conference’s participants resolved that it’d be useful if the government take these bills to the next parliamentary session scheduled for September [2023].”

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