‘Taking voters for a ride’, what fate for politicians?

Wednesday March 13 2019

A voter casts the ballot. PHOTO | FILE

A voter casts the ballot. PHOTO | FILE 

By Khalifa Said @ThatBoyKhalifax ksaid@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa’s surprise return to the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) marked a new episode in the drama that has become party-hopping by politicians ahead of the 2020 General Election.

At a colourful ‘home-coming’ ceremony in Monduli last week, the former PM told those who had gathered to receive him that they should not bother asking him why he decided to return to his former party.

He said his decision was a result of the impressive performance by the man he so bitterly fought against and lost to in the 2015 General Election - Dr John Magufuli - who won the Presidency.

Whether or not the defectors’ followers are buying these reasons time will tell. But there is a general consensus among political pundits that politicians are increasingly taking a huge risk undermining the voters’ intelligence and taking them for a ride ahead of elections.

Some independent analysts have described the high-profile defections over the years as a betrayal of voters’ goodwill, and warned that there is always a career price to pay for self-centredness.

Sabatho Nyamsenda, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), sees nothing new in what is currently taking place. He says defections have always been the nature of the country’s politics ever since the adoption of multiparty democracy.

But he is quick to point out that instead of strengthening democracy and enhancing the fight for social justice, most defections are rooted in the politicians’ insatiable desire for power and personal gain.

“They tend to have short-term goals,” he notes. “But the danger this attitude poses is that it tends to kill issues-based politics.”

The UDSM don decries the dearth of “principled politicians who truly believes in and willing to defend their ideas.”

Politics will lose meaning

He adds: “Eventually, politics will lose its meaning completely, and people will stop participating. People will lose interest in anything that has to do with politics, and the end of it is that we will have elected leaders given free reign to act as they please. The consequence is chaos.”

On Mr Lowassa’s decision, Mr Nyamsenda noted: “He was hellbent to become the President of this country. When you look and examine his history as a politician, it is clear that he never intended to improve multiparty democracy, but only securing power.”

The former PM’s decision is arguably a big blow for the four opposition parties that put their faith in him during the 2015 General Election, that saw them uniting for the first time to field a single candidate.

But Chadema secretary general Vincent Mashinji declines to characterise Mr Lowassa’s decision as outright betrayal. He says the former PM used his right of conscience.

Last week, Mr Lowassa showered praise on President Magufuli, who, he said was one of the people who convinced him to re-join CCM. “Don’t ask me why I have returned,” he remarked. “The answer is simple: I’ve just returned home, that’s all.”

Only four years ago, when he defected to the main opposition party Chadema following bitter CCM primaries, the former PM said the ruling party had lost the credibility to continue governing.

Seemingly, it was a case of sour grapes after the party elbowed him out of the race to the presidential candidacy. The party preferred Dr Magufuli -- apparently due to his popularity as a hardworking civil servant and clean record over corruption.

Convincing reason

Political pundits say the former Prime Minister, just like many who defected before him, has failed to provide a convincing reason for his action to the over six million voters who chose him as an opposition candidate in 2015.

A good number of those voters are most likely the youth who comprised half of the 22,750,789 registered voters aged between 18-35 years.

The biggest risk is disillusioning this group of enlightened young voters and those voted for the first time, who generally do not have emotional attachment to politics.

In this particular case, what could worsen the youthful voter’s disillusinment with the fickle nature of politics is the fact that just a few months ago, Mr Lowassa assured his followers that he had no plans to quit the opposition and rejoin CCM.

Interestingly, he vowed to continue fighting for their rights “because they believed in me”, suggesting that doing so borders on betrayal of the six million Tanzanians who voted for him.

Granted, the senior politician found himself in a difficult position coming up with a good reason to return to his former party. It was never going to be easy for the man who had always kept his cards close to his chest regarding his game plan to justify the move so shortly after assuring his followers that he was with them in the opposition to stay.

Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam, says that the moribund nature of the country’s politics is a product of the lack of principles.

Planners, not politicians

“Many people who describe themselves as politicians are in fact not politicians at all,” remarked Mr Ulimwengu at a recent convention on the ‘Life and Thought’ of fallen Tanzanian politician Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru in Dar es Salaam. “They are simply planners who undertake planning.”

Dr Aikande Kwayu, an honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin also expresses concern over the weakening of the country’s political institutions. She warns that defections are weakening the bargaining power in the pursuit of democracy and justice in the country. “We will not be able to grow our political institutions; we are weakening our democratic spaces.”

As both opposition and ruling party politicians took turns to defect in 2016, Adonis Byemelwa, a teacher and political analyst, wrote in an opinion published in The Citizen that while these defecting politicians demonstrated independent judgment by not blindly following party systems, there is a lot to worry about considering that opportunism is not healthy for democracy.

“One important quality of a good leader is the ability to make a decision and defend it through thick and thin,” he noted.

“But the opportunism that has reared its ugly head in Tanzanian politics boggles the mind. It now poses a serious threat to the multiparty system – and yes, national development.”

Many other analysts have also raised the alarm over unchecked defections over the past few years, saying that they do more harm than good to parties – both the one that receives and the one that loses.

But they have also warned that the politicians’ action borders on undermining the intelligence of the people who voted for them, and this may come back to haunt them.