Ruling raises hope of free polls body

Saturday May 11 2019

The High Court of Tanzania Dar es Salaam

The High Court of Tanzania Dar es Salaam Headquarter. Photo |File 

By James Magai @TheCitizenTz news@thecitizen.co.tz

Dar es Salaam. The High Court on May 10 declared unconstitutional electoral laws that gives municipal, town, and District Executive Directors (DEDs) powers to supervise local government elections on behalf of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

The court said sections 7 (1) and 7 (3) which empower DEDs to supervise and coordinate registration of voters for presidential, parliamentary and council elections offended the constitution, which bars people affiliated to political parties from running elections.

Lady Justice Atuganile Ngala said the sections contradicts section 74 (14) of the constitution for not setting limitations to ensure the independence and accountability of the DEDs and directors of towns, municipalities or city councils who double as returning officers during elections.

She sided with petitioners that the National Election Act does not provide any guarantee to ensure the independence of the returning officers appointed by NEC.

The section prohibits any person concerned with the supervision and conduct of elections from joining any political parties.

The court decision means the local government elections will only be supervised by officials hired by NEC, the only body charged by the constitution to supervise and coordinate elections.

The petition was filed last year human rights activists with the support of opposition political parties represented by Bob Wangwe of the main opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) against the government’s chief legal adviser, the Attorney General (AG). The petition was presided over by a panel of three judges--- Dr Benhajj Masoud, Firmin Matogolo and Atuganile who lead the team.

The petitioners felt that allowing directors of local government authorities to oversee elections jeopardised fairness of the election because the leaders were presidential appointees belonging to a political party in power.

“The president is free to appoint whoever he sees fit to serve as a DED…in many cases President John Magufuli has awarded the positions of District Executive Director members of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), who lost nomination for parliamentary elections,” said the petitioners. The petitioners contested section 22 (1) of the Local Government Services Act, which does not set any qualifications for directors of local governments and neither does it require the president to appoint directors who are independent from any political party.

“DEDs and directors of towns, municipalities or city councils when acting as returning officers are appointed and are answerable to the president and not the electoral commission and therefore have neither the independence nor the objectivity that is requisite in a returning officer under the constitution,” argued the petitioners.

Yesterday, the judge said he was satisfied by petitioner’s argument that there were no safeguards to ensure the DEDs are independent from political affiliations.