What next after Lowassa return to CCM?

Dar es Salaam. The return of Edward Lowassa to his former party, CCM, from which he quit in 2015 to become a flag-bearer for the main opposition Chadema, has now provided an opportunity to analyse the fate of his political future.

What the move means to CCM’s simmering but well controlled internal infightings and to the strength of the opposition in the build up to 2020 General Election are some of the questions that have engaged commentators about Tanzania’s changing politics.

A few months ago, no one could have imagined Mr Lowassa ditching Chadema for CCM. It was through the opposition party that he garnered over six million votes in the 2015 presidential election, below President John Magufuli’s eight million.

Lowassa said during an interview with Mwananchi Digital early last December that he had no plans to defect from Chadema and hinted that he was preparing to lead the struggle for 2020 presidency through Chadema. “I would like to put things clear to Tanzanians and Chadema supporters. I have no plans to leave Chadema,” said Mr Lowassa.

He added: “I have many reasons to remain in Chadema. In the last election [2015 general election] it is Chadema which helped me win people’s trust. What will I tell all those six million people?” Now, what has abruptly changed Lowassa’s mind to discard his vow of not re-joining CCM?

Lowassa meets Magufuli

Speculations that Mr Lowassa might have changed his mind begun immediately after he held unexpected talks with President John Magufuli at the State House on January 9 last year. In that meeting Mr Lowassa congratulated President Magufuli for a good job he was doing . The former Prime Minister said the ‘fruitful conversation’ he had with the President had comforted him, saying ‘the President has made my day.”

His remarks quickly triggered reactions and speculations and he was quickly obliged by his party to release a statement to calm Chadema supporters. In the statement Mr Lowassa reiterated that he was still a committed member of Chadema.

Mr Lowassa has for the past three years been through a painful period, at the family level. His son-in-law, Sioi Sumari, has been in custody over a Sh12 billion money laundering charges alongside former Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Commissioner General Harry Kitilya and former senior official at Stanbic Bank, Shose Sinare.

Speculations had it that the ex-Prime Minister might have used the opportunity to meet President Magufuli to plead administrative intervention to the burden he was carrying for being outside CCM.

His rejoining of CCM is also linked to his political culture and background. His political personality that was shaped within CCM has made him incompatible to Chadema’s aggressive and active politics in seeking leadership of the country.

While CCM has enjoyed supremacy for decades, it is difficult for Mr Lowassa to play politics of activism preferred by Chadema.

Prof Gaudens Mpangala of Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu) says with the sole ambition of winning the presidency, Mr Lowassa’s exit from Chadema was just a matter of time after losing to Dr Magufuli.

“He could not stay in the opposition after losing the election because the mission and objectives of the Tanzanian opposition were not in his heart,” said Prof Mpangala.

Whether Mr Lowassa will rise to the political heights he recorded prior and during the 2015 General Election, and whether or not CCM under Magufuli will allow him to do so, is the question whose answer many will be looking for.

Even as President Magufuli openly cheered Lowassa’s return some questions still remain. Why did CCM, by hook or by crook, want Lowassa back? Does he still retain the political significance and influence in CCM as he used to?

The Membe factor

Towards the end of last year, CCM secretary general Bashiru Ali publicly accused former Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe of taking part in an underground campaign aimed at undermining President Magufuli.

It is understood that prior and after the 2015 general election, Mr Membe and Mr Lowassa, who both sought presidency on the CCM ticket, formed rival camps whose stand-off is said to have created an easy sail for the candidacy of Dr Magufuli. The bitterness between these two factions has refused to die and has in many forms affected CCM’s internal politics, particularly in the build up to 2020.

So, with the real or perceived Membe challenge to Magufuli, CCM will be more comfortable to have Lowassa on their side as the stabiliser or reserve weapon in the event of a Membe’s comeback or ambush, come 2020 and even beyond.

Analysts say President Magufuli has played his cards well in recent months when he netted Lowassa’s key political allies in search for assurance to keep Membe at bay.

What next for the opposition?

What does Lowassa’s return to CCM mean to the six million people who voted for him during the 2015 elections is the big question that has divided both CCM and the opposition.

Chadema’s deputy secretary general (Mainland) John Mnyika says the absence of Lowassa will not work in any way to reduce opposition influence and votes, but will instead help them make significant strides in the coming election.

“In 2015, Tanzanians voted for change. There was a massive motivation campaign for change, so his coming to Chadema was an impetus,” he said.

CCM says they don’t view the return of Lowassa as an automatic increase in votes in the coming elections.

“We have enough votes and we are winners even without having Lowassa,” says the party’s Political and Foreign Relations secretary Colonel (retired) Ngemera Lubinga. He said people voted for Lowassa because they loved him as a person and not because of the ideology of the party he represented.

“If they say he will not have an impact on CCM votes in the coming election, why did they accept him in the first place and picked him for the presidency?” asked Lubinga.

Prof Mpangala says the opposition candidate managed to secure six million votes in the 2015 election not because of Lowassa but because of the chances created by political situation at that particular time.

“Chadema was politically at the peak at that time and could have secured more than five million votes even without Lowassa because the youth simply wanted change,” he said.

He said rampant high-level corruption and inaction of the previous administration gave the opposition a key agenda that resonated well with voters.

On the other hand, he said the formation of opposition coalition, Ukawa, after the rejection of constitution draft had an impact in helping the opposition.

According to Prof Mpangala, what will seriously affect number of opposition votes is not Lowassa’s exit but what he described as unfair and oppressive politics against the opposition and lack of fair playing field for political competition.

“Chadema has constantly been pestered and elections are not free and fair. State organs are the ones deciding who should win or who should lose election,” he alleged.

As the debate on Lowassa’s political game rages, there is no doubt his return to CCM opens door for the scramble for candidature in the 2020 general election with Lowassa-like impact and influence to voters. It is also a wake-up call for the opposition on how it should start treating defectors from the ruling CCM. It is out of question that Lowassa’s ‘betrayal’ of the opposition will in the future give them a difficult time to sell defectors from CCM.

“His exit has given an opportunity to pick a candidate better than him. So, we view his absence is a good riddance and a blessing in disguise,” said Mr Mnyika.