Tanzanias multiparty democracys key stakeholders assemble in Dar es Salaam for a two-day national stakeholders conference to reflect on the countrys state of democracy as it prepares for civic and general elections in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
The two-day conference, held under the auspices of the Tanzania Centre of Democracy (TCD), a non-profit political party membership organization working to strengthen multiparty democracy in the country, brought together representatives from political parties, the government, civil society organizations, and development partners.
The conference, which will take place on August 22 and 23, 2023, follows that on justice, peace, and reconciliation, which TCD, comprised of parties with representation in parliament, organized in the capital Dodoma between March 30 and March 31, 2022.
This years TCD conference, which is currently chaired by the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), was able to secure the attendance of all of the organizations members, including opposition party CHADEMA, which had previously shunned the think tanks efforts.
On the first day of the conference, Tuesday 22nd August 2023, participants deliberated on the state of multiparty democracy in the country, with the major theme being the unlevel playing field in which political parties are supposed to operate in Tanzania, with opposition parties complaining that the field is tilted in favor of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
In his inaugural speech, Hon. Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, TCD chairperson and national chairperson of the opposition CUF party, stated that Tanzania is far from having a multiparty democracy that serves the interests of many, noting that serious challenges continue to prevent free and fair elections in the country.
Hon. Lipumba, a celebrated economist in Tanzania, pointed to the 2020 general elections, which opposition parties and independent observers described as neither free nor fair, to demonstrate how the countrys democratic institutions are too weak to prevent the violation of peoples right to vote.
"On spurious grounds, opposition candidates were deregistered en masse," Hon. Prof Lipumba informed conference attendees. "In Tanzania, we have yet to establish a strong democracy." This does not bode good for our governance system. I see darkness looming unless major reforms are implemented."
Tuesdays conference comes at a time when calls for major changes in the way Tanzania manages its political affairs are gaining traction, with almost all key stakeholders agreeing that restarting the stalled constitution-writing process is the best way to deliver those changes.
President Dr. Samia, who took office on March 19, 2023, has assured Tanzanians that the process will be restarted, but she has yet to provide a timeframe outlining when the process will begin, a question that stakeholders have been waiting for an answer to.
Hon. John Mnyika, whose CHADEMA party has been at the forefront of demanding the processs revival, said during the conference Tuesday that while the country waits for the New Constitution, which would redefine the relationship between the government and the people, much-needed reforms are also being delayed.
He slammed a recent statement by Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Damas Ndumbaro that the process will begin by educating the public about the current 1977 constitution, claiming that the government is misdirecting itself and endangering the country.
"This is not a good direction," said Hon. Mwinyika, secretary-general of CHADEMA. "What was supposed to happen was that the government would send a bill to parliament to restart the stalled process."
I believe the government should abandon its plans and instead act in accordance with the views of stakeholders."
Others, however, are concerned that the New Constitution would still be absent when voters go to the polls in 2024 and 2025, implying that changing major electoral institutions should be a priority before elections.
This group includes the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, whose national leader, Hon. Juma Duni Haji, told conference delegates that it is critical that Tanzanians have access to an independent electoral commission before the 2024 municipal elections.
"It is critical that the civic elections are managed by an independent electoral commission, as opposed to the current situation where PO-RALG oversees them," Hon. Duni added. "We must also amend the National Election Act before the end of 2023." During the elections, we need legal mechanisms to ensure free and fair elections."
Hon. Dunis proposals are consistent with those of the presidential task team on multiparty democracy, which was presented to President Dr. Samia Suluhu Hassan on October 21, 2022. The task group proposed that essential electoral rules be modified in response to stakeholder feedback in order to ensure that elections in 2024 and 2025 take place in a free and fair atmosphere.
It is unknown when the government intends to present these legislation to parliament for modification, including the National Election Act and the Political Parties Act. Their fast-tracking was one of several ideas made at the conference on Tuesday.
During the meeting, CCM vice chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Hon. Abdulrahman Kinana acknowledged Tanzanias democratic progress, calling it as "huge by every measure."
"But are there some flaws?" "I believe there are, and everything good has flaws," Hon. Kinana stated. Our laws have various flaws, but there are also flaws in how those laws are enforced during elections."