Tanzanian Lawmaker Suggests Extending Presidential Terms

DAR ES SALAAM – A Tanzanian lawmaker is proposing presidential terms be extended to save money on elections, a move that may let President John Magufuli stay longer in office and echo steps in other East African nations that critics say point to a decline in democracy.

Juma Nkamia, a former deputy information minister, said he will send his recommendation that terms be increased to seven years from five to the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi, of which he is a member. Should the party approve it, he’ll submit a motion to parliament for a change in the law, he said in a phone interview. The CCM said it doesn’t share Nkamia’s position on the issue.

“We are losing a lot of money during elections so why don’t we increase the number of term years?” Nkamia said. He also suggested local and general elections be held simultaneously.

Magufuli came to power in late 2015 pledging to industrialize sub-Saharan Africa’s sixth-biggest economy and clamp down on corruption, but recent arrests of lawmakers accused of criticizing parliament and the shuttering of three newspapers for alleged misreporting have stoked fears that room for political dissent is shrinking. Tanzania’s neighbors Uganda and Rwanda have changed their constitutions to allow presidents to seek additional terms.

“This is definitely a worrying trend and hints at democratic regression, an issue we are continuing to see across the East African region,” Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based vice president at Teneo Strategy, said in an emailed response to questions. “It also seems unnecessary to extend term limits, especially considering how dominant the CCM party remains in Tanzania’s politics.”

‘Not on Agenda’

Humphrey Polepole, the CCM’s secretary for ideology and publicity, said the party’s decision to support policies is taken at the organization’s meetings. “The party has not discussed this issue and it is not on the agenda in upcoming party meetings,” he said by text message.

Currently 275 of the 391 lawmakers in Tanzania’s parliament are members of the CCM, according to Nenelwa Wankanga, acting clerk of the national assembly. Amending the length of presidential terms would require support from two-thirds of the parliament’s lawmakers with constituencies on the Tanzanian mainland and the same proportion of those from the archipelago of Zanzibar, according to Chris Maina Peter, a law professor at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The amendment would only apply for future elections, not for the current term, he said by phone. “Just like in football, you don’t start a game and then change the rules half-way.”

In June, former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi said that if it weren’t for term limits, he would advise Magufuli to stay in power indefinitely. This week, Pius Msekwa, a former speaker of parliament and vice chairman of the CCM, told local Azam TV that the party had previously discussed the idea of extending term limits and rejected it, and he believed will do so again.

At an August rally in Tanga, northeast Tanzania, Magufuli said it was impossible for him to remain president beyond the term limits after a local member of parliament said he should stay in power for 20 years. “I will respect the constitution,” he said in a televised address.

Magufuli won his first term with 58 percent of votes in 2015, one of the CCM’s poorest electoral performances, and the proposal may reflect growing fears within the party that its support will continue to drop, Salim said.

They may “kick the can down the road and buy themselves more time,” he said.

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