SEEKING to rule with absolute power, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli is wittingly attempting to reinstitute one-party politics in his country. At worst, he is bent on forcefully instituting one-man politics.
His government has already sent a bill to parliament to amend the Political Parties Act, 1992, into a fresh law – the Political Parties (Amendment) Act, 2018 – that will impede competitive politics and put an end to a multiparty culture, which has been in existence since 1992.
Despite stiff opposition and criticism from political stakeholders, the bill was forcefully tabled in the last parliamentary session in November for first reading, hugely pushed by the speaker and supported by ruling party (CCM) parliamentarians, who form the majority of legislators in the house. It is up for a second reading on 15th January 2019.
Bent on blocking this process, ten opposition parties forged a common strategy and filed, under certificate of urgency, a petition – miscellaneous civil cause number 31 of 2018 – with the High Court of Tanzania on 20th December 2018.
Petitioners in the case are Zitto Zuberi Kabwe, Salim Abdulla Rashid, and Joram Lwebarura Bashange – representing all parties against the Attorney General, the respondent. After preliminary submissions and prayers by counsels from both sides on 4th January 2019, the court has ruled that the petition shall come for hearing on 11th January 2019.
Should the government sail through and let the president sign the bill into law, that will be a catastrophic end of multiparty politics in Tanzania. Political parties will be irrelevant, and the president (through the registrar of political parties) will determine what his critics should do or say, and who should be members or leaders of their parties.
With this bill, Magufuli’s determination to exterminate opposition – as he vowed on 5th February 2016 – is getting to its peak. Essentially, his move is as bad to his party as it is to the opposition.
It is going to ravage his party in the same way it will damage the opposition. At worst, it might be the start of a political turmoil that would end up triggering a more serious civil confrontation.
With this bill, Magufuli is unknowingly inviting opposition from everyone with the slightest sense of right to freedom of expression and assembly. In the long run, Magufuli’s determination to monopolise the country’s politics is apt to cause him more pain than gain.
In a properly working system with a highly sensitive, patriotic, and professional security service, this bill should not have been given a chance of seeing the light of the day. For that matter, it is expected that right-thinking politicians in the ruling party will do whatever it takes to halt this disastrous move in and outside parliament.
Here is a brief analysis of vital sections of the controversial bill:
The Bill is introducing in section (3) the functions of the registrar to include, among others, to monitor intra-party elections and nomination process. This is to interfere with democratic processes within political parties that are done in accordance with their constitutions. The ill motive here is to determine the fate of leadership in political parties, particularly in the opposition.
The bill is proposing stringent rules on conducting civic education in the country. Section 5A(1) states that: “a person or institution registered within or outside the United Republic wishing to conduct civic education or any kind of capacity building training or initiative to a political party, shall, prior to conducting such training, inform the registrar in writing stating the objective and kind of training program, persons involved in such training, teaching aids and expected results.”
The bill further states in subsection (2) that: “upon receipt of information under subsection (1), the registrar may disapprove the training or capacity building program and give reasons for such disapproval. Contravention of this section leads to maximum fines not exceeding thirty million shillings, or imprisonment for a term of not less than six months.”
The hidden ill motive behind this section is to ban assistance and cooperation of parties with sister parties from abroad.
In section 5B (1) the bill is proposing the registrar to demand any information from a political party, a leader, or a member. This section unnecessarily seeks to give too much power to the registrar to pry into some private information of opposition parties.
Section 6 states that no suit shall lie against the registrar, deputy registrar, director or other officers under the registrar for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith in the performance of any function under this act.
This is immunity very catastrophic. It obstructs the principle of accountability and may lead to the misuse of the powers conferred to it.
Section 6A (6) states: “A political party shall not function as a pressure or activist group.” This is nonsensical because political parties are naturally pressure or activist groups. They have the duty to raise people’s awareness on matters of importance in society. They are the mouthpiece of the downtrodden. Denying them this responsibility is as good as banning them.
Section 8D proposes the minister to decide the fate of the constitutions of political parties through regulations that his will draft. In addition, the registrar is empowered by this section to direct political parties to amend their constitutions within six months, if he feels uncomfortable with such constitutions, and if he thinks they do not comply with the requirement of the amended act.
Again, the registrar is being used as an excuse for the president (who is normally the chairman of the ruling party) to run opposition parties. A constitution of a political party provides proceedings for members on the way they want their party to be governed.
Allowing the registrar to tamper with the constitutions of political parties is to infringe on freedoms and liberties of members of political parties who have chosen the manner they want their party and party activities to be conducted.
Generally Magufuli’s ill is seeking to turn the registrar of political parties into a regulatory authority.
The bill criminalise politics in Tanzania. It is endowed with heavy penalties including imprisonment for trivial offences. It contravenes freedoms of liberty, assembly and expression.
It empowers the minister – a member of the ruling party – to regulate and determined activities of other parties that oppose his party. The registrar is president’s appointee. Giving him excessive powers is tantamount to granting the president powers to run all political parties.
This is why members of parliament, members of public, political stakeholders, religious institutions, non-governmental organisations and the international community must join forces to salvage Tanzania from passing this law and sinking further into dictatorship.
Between 1965 and 1985 Tanzania suffered the ills of what they termed as a “one-party democracy” that limited freedoms and caused ineffable poverty to the people.
During the same period, President Julius Nyerere survived a few attempts of coup d’etat due to public dissatisfaction, but he became popular when he voluntarily retired in 1985 and played a huge role in influencing the country’s transformation into a multiparty democracy.
Well aware of the trend of world politics, Nyerere influenced his own party to open a democratic space and accommodate other parties – which he had banned in 1995 – saying the times had changed. The constitution was amended and the political parties act enacted in 1992, providing for the first multiparty election in 1995.
Since then, Tanzania has been undergoing major positive changes as well as gaining great democratic strides, making it one of the most peaceful and stable states in the Eastern and Southern blocks of the African continent.
This state of affairs began to retard when Magufuli rose to power in 2015, instituting political unrest, brutality, hatred, and murder. Deliberately, outright dictatorship began to blossom. Now, he is going further – attempting to turn the tables in effort to legalise his autocracy.