Two major opposition parties in Tanzania are planning a grand coalition with civil society to push for reforms ahead of this year’s election.
It could be seen too little, too late, but for Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) and ACT-Wazalendo, any positive and progressive move matters.
In the countdown to last November’s civic elections, the opposition failed to make impact partly due to the ban of open-air political rallies and intimidation. Now the opposition wants political rights to be entrenched in law to stop the unwarranted clamp down on political activities in the country.
As the clock ticks towards the October parliamentary and presidential elections, the opposition are calling for an independent electoral commission, a simple majority presidential victory and a possibility to question presidential results in court.
The newly-appointed secretary general of Chadema John Mnyika says the party sees no point of going into the October election with the current constitution and an electoral body run by the ruling party—Chama cha Mapinduzi.
His position is shared by ACT-Wazalendo chief advisor Seif Sharrif Hamad, who said his party is looking to partner with non-state actors to push for reforms.
Mr Hamad, a five-time contestant in Zanzibar and one of the influential political figures in the semi-autonomous isles, says he will support the push for reforms and is ready to work with civil society and religious institutions.
Mr Mnyika says they want to revive the demand for an independent electoral commission.
“Following what happened during the November local election, we need to emphasise on this issue. The first assignment will be demanding an independent commission in various ways,” he said.
The Political Parties Council, a forum for all political parties has also pledged to back the call for reforms by political parties and will present the demand to the secretariat.
John Shibuda, chairman of the council, said in an interview that for such a move to succeed there is a need for a joint force to push for it through a formal proposal.
A similar call for national reforms failed last year. The Tanzania Constitution Forum (TCF), an umbrella organisation for over 22 civil society organisations advocating for constitutional reforms said it made no headway when it asked the government to institute minimum reforms as the country was preparing for the local government election in November and the general election later this year.
Hebron Mwakagenda, TCF executive director said the reforms were necessary for a credible election in 2019 and now in 2020.
The November local election was characterised by chaos and boycott by the opposition who cried foul following mass disqualification of their candidates by a court.
Should the push for a coalition pushing for reforms succeed this year, it will be a second attempt to form coalition to advocate for constitutional changes after one in 2015.
The coalition, Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (Ukawa), however, ended up being nothing other than a political outfit seeking to field a single a presidential candidate support by the opposition. It eventually collapsed.
The call for reforms is not new. It goes back to 2012 when then president Jakaya Kikwete established the Tanzania Constitutional Review Process to change the existing supreme law.
In 2014, the team presented its findings in the form of a draft constitution, which was, however, rejected by the opposition, citing alterations from the original document.
The Tanzania Centre for Democracy, an umbrella organisation for leading political parties had pushed for the same in 2013, meeting with Mr Kikwete who at the time had promised them that he would give minimum reforms a priority.
They had also wanted Mr Kikwete to suspend the Constituent Assembly sessions to focus on the minimum reforms.
The constitution review process was seen as key to Mr Kikwete’s legacy at the time.
Retired judge Joseph Warioba who chaired the Constitutional Review Commission said in an interview that he would not comment on the civil society 2020 new direction since his focus was still on the constitutional review.
Mr Warioba was instrumental in the constitution review process and has met with President John Magufuli several times since the president was sworn in in October 2015 but it is not clear whether the constitution issue was discussed.
The constitution review process stagnated in 2015 and the bone of contention was that the draft presented had been altered by the Constitutional Assembly whose majority members were from the ruling party.
This sparked fierce criticism from the opposition who walked out in protest and later formed themselves into Coalition for People’s Constitution which lately has become a political force.
But the minimum amendments being proposed now are not new. They was first floated by the Tanzania Centre for Democracy, an umbrella of political parties with representation in parliament.
Mr Kikwete, who met the representatives from the ruling CCM, Chadema, NCCR-Mageuzi, TLP, CUF proposed amendments to be tabled to allow private candidates, independent electoral commission and the presidential candidate to get more than 50 per cent of all valid votes in order to be declared winner.
However, Kikwete did not make good his promise until he left office in December 2015.
By The Eastafrica