Dar es Salaam. Speaker of Parliament Tulia Ackson was on Friday elected as the next President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), becoming the 31st president of the international organisation of national parliaments.
She becomes only the third woman President of the IPU after Najma Heptulla from India (1999–2002) and Gabriela Cuevas from Mexico (2017–2020). Dr Ackson is also the first African woman to hold the position.
The Mbeya Urban MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM) takes over from Mr Duarte Pacheco, a parliamentarian from Portugal, who concluded his three-year mandate at the end of the 147th IPU Assembly in Luanda, Angola.
Ms Ackson, who became a lawmaker in 2015, won the race after receiving 172 out of all votes, equivalent to 57 per cent, defeating her three competitors from Malawi, Senegal and Somalia.
Holding a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Law from the University of Dar es Salaam and a Doctorate from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Ms Ackson served as the Deputy Speaker in the 11th Parliament and the Speaker of the 12th Parliament.
She is an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania and a member of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), the Bar Association of Tanzania Mainland. She taught law at the University of Dar es Salaam and served as the country’s Deputy Attorney General.
In her acceptance speech, Dr Tulia, 46, expressed gratitude for the confidence her voters bestowed on her, saying she accepts the position with “humility while recognising all the responsibilities it brings.”
“I reaffirm my commitment to work hand in hand with you all to make the IPU the most effective, accountable and transparent organisation,” she added.
The parliamentarians voted in a secret ballot. With four candidates on the ballot, the new IPU President was elected with 57 per cent of the vote after a single round of voting.
Hundreds of parliamentarians from 130 IPU Member Parliaments voted in the election.
To encourage gender equality, each IPU Member Parliament was entitled to three votes on the condition that they have a gender-balanced delegation.
Single-sex delegations were entitled to just one vote.
Dr Ackson beat three other candidates on the ballot: Ms Adji Diarra Mergane Kanouté of Senegal, Ms Catherine Gotani Hara of Malawi and Ms Marwa Abdibashir Hagi of Somalia, all women MPs from Africa.
The IPU Governing Council elects the IPU President for three years. The IPU President must be a sitting Member of Parliament for the duration of their term in office.
Dr Ackson will be the political head of the IPU, and she will be responsible for chairing the organisation’s statutory meetings and representing it at global events.
The principle of regional rotation is generally observed. Over the past 25 years, prominent parliamentarians from Spain, India, Chile, Italy, Namibia, Morocco, Bangladesh, Mexico, Portugal and now Tanzania have held the IPU presidency.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan became one of many people on Friday who congratulated Dr Ackson for her election, writing on X, formerly Twitter, that her election “is a manifestation of the remarkable job you are doing and the trust delegates across the world have in you and our country.”
“It is a testament to your many years of hard work and dedication to public service and an inspiration to the young girls in Tanzania, the African continent and beyond,” the Head of State added.
Lulu Ng’wanakilala, the Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Services Facility (LSF), an NGO working to promote access to justice in Tanzania, congratulated Dr Akson for “putting Tanzania, East Africa, Africa and, most importantly, women on the map.”
Deputy Speaker of Uganda, Thomas Tayebwa, wrote on X that he is glad East Africa consolidated its support towards Dr Ackson’s candidature.
“With you at the helm of this global forum of Parliamentarians, our pertinent issues as a continent will find space on the agenda,” Mr Tayebwa observed. “Count on our continued support.”
Friday’s election of Dr Ackson as the President of IPU occurred against the opposition expressed by some Tanzania analysts and human rights activists, who thought she did not deserve to lead the body as her human rights record is questionable.
Critics pointed out that Dr Ackson, as a leader of the lawmaking body in the country, has done very little to stand up against what is perceived as the violations of people’s fundamental rights by the government, making her complicit in the violations.
In The Citizen newspaper on May 17, 2023, the acting publicity secretary of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Andrew Bomani, described Dr Ackson as “the sad epitome of all that has gravely gone wrong in Tanzania over the years.”
But writing in the same paper on June 7, 2023, John Mireny, a research manager at the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), defended Dr Ackson, arguing that opposition towards her candidacy is “probably motivated by domestic power and control gimmicks, selfishness and greed, or a desire to become ‘useful idiots’ for foreign candidates.”