Tanzania civic elections: Manipulated by government, shunned by opposition

THE main opposition party in Tanzania, CHADEMA, has withdrawn from the upcoming local government election scheduled for 24th November 2019. ACT-Wazalendo and other parties are following suit because, after all, there is no election whatsoever. 

The results of the election have already been decided by the government machinery, which technically barred opposition candidates from contesting in order to allow the ruling party, CCM, to go unopposed in 4,263 streets, 12,319 villages, and 64,383 village units.

 The overall number of seats in this election is 333,555 of which Chadema alone had fielded 85 per cent. According to the party, 94 per cent of their candidates were barred from contesting. Other opposition parties had a relatively lower but significant number of contestants. ACT-Wazalendo, the second-largest opposition party with a strong base in Zanzibar, says its 166,649 candidates were barred from contesting.

By all standards, this is a serious matter. It is a bad omen to the country’s democracy and it signals a likely return to the single-party rule that ended in 1992. It is an obvious calculation of President John Magufuli’s determination to rule unopposed as he attempts to stifle and suffocate the opposition. But it is not expected to be an easy ride for him and his party. It is civil strife in the making.

 Obviously, this was a premeditated action by the government. SAUTI KUBWA understands that despite Magufuli’s mega-projects, mainly in the infrastructure industry, he has not been able to win the common people’s hearts due to the ever-increasing poverty levels and political hostilities since he took power in 2015.

 Even as the voter registration opened in October, very few people turned up, prompting the use of force by the president and his regional and district subordinates. For the first time in the country’s 58 years of independence, civil servants were threatened with disciplinary action unless they registered to vote.

It is also understood that intelligence briefs had informed the president of his party’s growing unpopularity among the people due to the falling purchasing power and their outright opposition to Magufuli’s politics of hostility and torture. 

As one of his winning strategies, in September, he invited to the State House over 3000 ward officers – the personnel directly overseeing local elections. On top of a paid-for return ticket, accommodation and meals, each officer was awarded cash equivalent to $50. Reports from the meeting say the officers were instructed to make it impossible for opposition candidates to run in this election, especially in their strongholds. And this is exactly what they executed on 5th November 2019.

Over 90 per cent of opposition candidates in the whole country were disqualified, citing dubious irregularities in their nomination forms. Interestingly, not a single CCM candidate was disqualified. Although there is room for an appeal, and the local government minister Seleman Jaffo had earlier made a statement condemning the massive disqualification of opposition candidates, analysts and the opposition understood it was a political drama meant to paralyse the opposition because, after all, the whole saga is orchestrated under the instructions of Jaffo’s boss – the president.

Opposition Leader Freeman Mbowe spoke to the press in Dodoma on Thursday evening after his party’s Central Committee had made a unanimous decision to officially withdraw from the election, citing ineffable proportions of political thuggery. 

He said: “We were prepared for this election, with candidates in 94 per cent of all streets in Mainland Tanzania… But our candidates have been barred from contesting. We are not going to endorse this thuggery… Our people are very angry, and justifiably so. We have millions of members and supporters all over the country who are denied a chance to choose their leaders. We are sending a strong message to the president and his government machinery… We are able to reach and coordinate millions of our members and supporters all over the country as we consider the next step.”

He asked all CHADEMA members in the country to never recognise any leadership that would result from this rigged election process. “That is the first step, and let no one blame us later,” Mbowe said.   

Similar sentiments were echoed by ACT- Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, on Friday: “It may seem as if the opposition has pulled out. Not really. If 96 per cent of our ACT candidates were not nominated, have we really pulled out? Now, we will tell the people what to do next. CCM has crossed our line of patience… Let no one blame us later.”

CCM Secretary General Bashiru Ally and Local Government Minister Jaffo have reacted to the opposition’s withdrawal. Ally said the opposition had been disqualified because its candidates were not serious enough in filling in their nomination forms. Jaffo said the opposition’s withdrawal was unfortunate and unfair because some of their candidates who were not disqualified would be denied a chance to win and become leaders in their respective areas.

It is rather paradoxical for the president who has spent his first four years in power engaging in some mega-projects – roads, bridges, hydropower, purchase of aircraft, standard gauge railway, and so on, to manipulate the electoral process instead of letting his party enjoy the support of the electorates he claims to have been working hard to “develop.” It is obvious, though, the projects and political pomps associated with them have not given his party enough confidence and electability. 

Although Magufuli has worked hard to silence the media, the opposition, critics and civil societies, while giving all space to his cheerleaders and propagandists, his behaviour in this election speaks a different language. He seems to be afraid of the silent public and its predictable action at the polling stations. SAUTI KUBWA understands the president’s advisors told him the opposition had been predicted to win by 61 per cent, overall.

This election comes at a time when Tanzania’s economy is facing its most rapid plummet in recent history. Widespread rights abuses that have become symbolic of the Magufuli regime have created public discontent against him and his party. 

Outright violence against opposition candidates has seen many opposition members maimed, tortured, persecuted, prosecuted, jailed and killed in broad daylight. The entire leadership of CHADEMA, for instance, is currently in court battling a variety of trumped-up charges, including the murder of a college student who was shot dead in February 2018 as police fired live bullets to disperse opposition supporters after a by-election rally in Kinondoni, Dar es Salaam. 

During the same by-election, Daniel John, a CHADEMA ward leader in the constituency was abducted by people suspected to be police. He was later found dead. The list of victims of Magufuli’s atrocity is long and has tarnished the image of the country formerly regarded as the most peaceful in the Sub Saharan region.

Threatening to “break their legs” and regularly ordering police to arrest them arbitrarily, Magufuli banned the opposition from doing politics until 2020, but their grassroots support has been notably growing behind his knowledge until he was recently tipped-off by the intelligence.

Dan Paget from the Oxford University has documented how CHADEMA has spent the last four years building a large grassroots network that enabled them to field candidates in 85% of the local councils compared to less than 48% in the last elections in 2014. 

In 2014, CHADEMA obtained 15.85 per cent of local government elections with 2,001 seats against CCM’s 9,406. That was the highest ever for the opposition in the country’s history, and its base has been growing faster than it had been predicted. During the 2015 general elections, the united opposition posed the greatest threats to CCM, with Magufuli’s miraculously being declared winner by a mere 58 per cent – the lowest ever for the ruling party since 1961. 

As soon as he got in power, he made a public determination to exterminate the opposition before 2020. On 5th February 2016, he said: “I want CCM to rule this country without any opposition.” He has said several times that democracy derails development and that to him, democracy means water, roads, hospitals, aircraft, and school. He was quoted in Mbeya region in 2017, during one of his tours, insisting that any returning officer allowing an opposition candidate to win in their constituency would lose their job.

The biggest fear at the moment is that if the electorates give up on elections, there is a serious risk of growing acts of retaliation. In some areas of Mara and Mbeya regions, angry citizens have already vandalised farms of election officers and burnt down CCM offices, respectively. 

Fears are growing that the opposition’s withdrawal from elections might mark the beginning of a violent campaign and deadly against the ruling party in the next few months. Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola said on Friday: “I am told they have withdrawn from the election. They might be organising some actions that are likely to destabilise the country’s peace. The government is prepared to face them head-on.” 

In the meantime, about 10 surrogate parties friendly to CCM are saying they will not quit the polls because “a hungry person never leaves the dinner table with an empty stomach.” This expression says it all. The government will likely support and use them to justify the already rigged and manipulated election.


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