Dar es Salaam. The ruling party CCM and main opposition Chadema kicked off campaigns for the Kinondoni by-election at the weekend in their latest major tussle for votes – a showdown that analysts have hinted could prove to be too close to call.
Events that led to the colourful by-election campaign launch on Saturday, have raised more questions than answers for both the ruling party and its challengers.
With the shock surprise by the opposition to participate in the February vote, just a few weeks after its boycott threat, and the ruling CCM deciding to field a candidate who just defected from the Civic United Front (CUF), the by-election has left the country’s main political parties facing off in a gambling contest.
Tipping no party for a clean sweep, political pundits suggested in interviews with Political Platform this week that both players in one way or the other have had their hands tied, forcing them to make risky circumstantial decisions in a desperation to maximise on the by-election.
Mr Elijah Kondi, a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), said that CCM and Chadema inevitably found themselves in a situation where they had to gamble.
“By fielding a defector as a candidate, CCM is taking chances but at the same time leaving no stone unturned in a situation where they can enjoy a certain advantage. Their candidate obviously can be useful amid the perception of a weakening opposition,” he said.
As for the opposition, the UDSM lecturer suggests that Chadema’s somersault on participation was a case of a hand being forced by a do-or-die scenario.
He said: “Circumstances force them. Chadema wants the seat back to the opposition. But the rules of the game may still not be fair as far as they are concerned.”
Demands for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to make radical changes that could level the playing field in the aftermath of the controversial civic polls in 43 wards last year have not been heeded.
A socio-political analyst, Erick Mwakibete, also wrote on his Sunday column in The Citizen that Chadema’s U-turn was a gamble.
“For this political gamble to be meaningful, Chadema has to win at least one of the two constituencies. Anything less will spell serious trouble for it regardless of what the leaders say,” he opined.
There danger that opposition supporters may be disillusioned by an apparent lack of principle and inconsistence in the higher echelons of power remains stuck. It could lead to a protest vote, or voter apathy – something that will give CCM victory on a silver platter.
Hard-pressed to justify their somersault, opposition leaders gave less than convincing reasons, with Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe saying they never said they would boycott forever.
The unanswered question remain as to why this time when their concerns have not yet been addressed.
Mr Said Kubenea, Chadema legislator (Ubungo) and chief strategist in the Kinondoni by-election campaign, was also at pains during the weekend to explain the change of mind.
“We had decided not to engage in this election but after realising that CCM nominated Maulid Mtulia (who defected from CUF), we agreed to participate so that we can protect our people from fake leaders who are bribed to defect midway before accomplishing their missions,” he said.
But there is a general feeling among observers that Chadema decided to jump onto a perceived opportunity that presented itself in the ruling party’s controversial pick for candidate.
“Chadema is banking on the goodwill of die-hard opposition supporters in this constituency – who are obviously going to punish the runaway MP for defecting,” said an impeccable source, a party insider who preferred anonymity because he is not the official spokesperson. “There is a conviction that Kinondoni is an opposition stronghold, they don’t want to let that go. But it’s a plunge into the dark.”
Another senior Chadema member, former Prime Minister Fredrick Sumaye said the decision was aimed at showing that “democracy is essential in the country”.
Mr Richard Lyimo, deputy secretary-general Tanzania Labour Party (TLP), warned that the opposition risked a loss due to a divided vote.
“It’s a sign of disunity that will divide voters and enable CCM to win,” he said.
Yet Dr Richard Mbunda, a political science lecturer at UDSM, said it would have been reckless for the opposition to boycott the by-elections. “The decision to participate is an opportunity to retain the seat, instead of letting it go; this is bearing into mind that they have been silenced for two years now,” he said.
With regards to CCM, Dr Mbunda said the ruling party’s decision to field Mtulia was possibly part of the deal for his defection.
“I don’t think Mtulia just defected with no cause, there must be some agreement reached between him and CCM. He possibly was assured of his choice, to retain his seat through the ruling party.”
He, however, was quick to note that CCM, while possibly keeping its promise to Mtulia, could have made a risky gamble in a constituency with educated and “well-informed” voters.
Dr Jonathan Buberwa, a political analyst at Kampala University, concurred. He warned that CCM’s bid to weaken the opposition could have led it to the decision to nominate a defector.
MP Mwigulu Nchemba (CCM- Iramba West) justified the ruling party’s decision saying the party could not deny a chance to whoever wanted “to bring light to his people”.