Dar es Salaam. A coalition of ten opposition parties has said that they have filed a constitutional case, asking the High Court of Tanzania to block the government from tabling the Political Parties Bill in Parliament.
The case, filed under a certificate of urgency on December 20, was based on the argument that the proposed amendments to the law were attempts by the government to exclude opposition parties from engaging in political activities.
The goal of filing the case was, therefore, to block the Bill from being debated in the august House later this month (January 2019) as earlier planned and instead give room for further negotiations on the planned law before it went through the approval processes.
Reading the coalition’s statement in Dar es Salaam yesterday, ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe argued that the Bill contravened the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.
He said the proposed changes contained in the Bill aimed at suppressing the opposition and criminalising all political activities.
“We call upon all our members to turn up here at the court in large numbers to hear this case so that democratic people can see we are taking action,” said Mr Zitto.
The case comes for hearing today, with the Attorney General being the respondent. The opposition parties will be represented by advocates Mpare Mpoki and Daimu Halfani.
Opposition parties say the Bill seeks to give the Registrar of Political Parties powers equivalent to those of a regulatory authority.
“This means that he will have powers to intervene in administrative matters and internal decisions of political parties,” the statement reads.
Some of the internal decisions that political parties fear may attract the Registrar’s intervention include suspension and dismissal of members.
The parties believe that the Bill in question was bent on creating an uneven environment for competition among political parties.
“True competition must be built on parties’ capacity to stand up on the opinion of the other….The aim of the Bill is to ensure that the ruling CCM continues to rule with the help of state organs,” reads the statement which was signed by Mr Zitto Kabwe, Mr Joran Bashange and Mr Salim Abdalla Bimani.
The opposition parties believe if left to proceed, the Bill will easily sail through in Parliament, given the ruling party’s majority in the House.
They believe, however, that if approved in its existing form, the Bill would deprive them (opposition parties) of their basic freedoms, and their basic rights.
“A major flaw in the Bill is that it criminalises some of the activities of political parties. It also gives massive powers to the Registrar of Political Parties and those under his jurisdiction. The Bill also interferes with the internal affairs of political parties,” the statement reads.
The proposed Bill seeks to shield the Registrar of Political Parties from any legal suit that would emanate from his conduct, including how he deals with the opposition.
Under the current constitution, the Registrar is an appointee of the sitting president.
Among the contested sections in the Bill are sections seeking to give the Registrar of Political Parties legal immunity from litigation for decisions taken in line with the new law.
While the existing Act provides room for political parties to sue the Registrar, the proposed amendments give the office total immunity and specifically that he is not liable for negligence.