Wait until 2020? No thank you!

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe

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But even as they await the court’s judgement, what options do they have? What strategies will they use to find more space in a political field that President Magufuli seems to have dominated since the beginning of the year?

Dar es Salaam. Opposition politicians have practically been sent on a forced political holiday by President John Magufuli. But they have vowed to ignore his order and press on with their rallies, perceived as “cheap politicking” by the CCM government.

 Holding rallies when the next election is four years away is not only a waste of people’s time, but also an uncalled for distraction considering the amount of work to be done, the President said at a recent National Electoral Commission (NEC) function. 

In his own words: “I have no patience with anyone who attempts to stall my plans to fulfil the promises I made to the people. Politicians should wait for 2020 to do their politicking.” 

The Opposition took offence at the controversial remarks, repeated two days later by President Magufuli at an event organised by the Police Force in Dar es Salaam. They have since sought court intervention to be allowed back to their “campaign trail”. 

But even as they await the court’s judgement, what options do they have? What strategies will they use to find more space in a political field that President Magufuli seems to have dominated since the beginning of the year?

Opposition leaders who spoke to Political Platform last week said they would “fight to the bitter end” for their constitutional rights.

Political analysts have expressed mixed views on the ban, with some challenging the Opposition to change their approach to politics. Others say Ukawa needs to fight for its shrinking political space despite the mounting problems. 

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe says the Opposition won’t surrender and bow to the government’s pressure. “We will strategically reorganise ourselves and come up with a plan to reach our supporters if the ban on meetings continues,” he tells Political Platform.

Mr Mbowe, who is also the MP for Hai and Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, says President Magufuli’s ban on political activities was hypocritical. 

He says: “CCM cadres who masquerade as Regional Commissioners, District Commissioners and even the President himself, continue with political activities, using their official status in government to publicise CCM propaganda while demonising the opposition.”

“Indoor political gatherings organised by the Opposition are disrupted by the police. The Executive has planted the Deputy Speaker to indirectly control the National Assembly. Opposition MPs are being suspended on grounds of violating Standing Orders,” he adds. 

Mr Mbowe accuses President Magufuli for adopting “confrontational politics” instead of the “savvy, civilized politics” based on consensus.  “My worries are that the country is likely to produce political prisoners in the near future,” Mr Mbowe laments.

Experts have mixed reactions

While Dr Benson Bana from the University of Dar es Salaam says the Opposition’s tactics may be “poorly conceived”, Prof Gaudence Mpangala from Ruaha Catholic University, says the President’s ban is against the law.

“The Political Parties Act of 1992 has given rights to political parties with provisional and permanent registration to hold rallies at any region within the Mainland Tanzania and the Isles,” Prof Mpangala says.

Section 11 of the Political Parties Act (as amended) says: “Every party which has been provisionally or fully registered shall be entitled to hold and address public meetings in any area in the United Republic after giving notification to the police officer in-charge of the area concerned for purposes of publicizing itself and soliciting for membership.”

But what are the options?

Dr Bana argues, however, that the revelation in recent surveys that President Magufuli’s approval ratings are beyond 80 per cent, should prompt the Opposition to change their political approach if they want to reach and get the support of Tanzanians.

“In their evaluation (the Opposition) should try to find out what caused their defeat during the previous elections. Maybe they need to stick to issues such as their anti-graft agenda, and focus on offering more solutions on development issues such as improving the quality of education and improving access to clean water instead of politicking for its own sake,” Dr Bana says. On demonstrations, Dr Bana says that the Opposition should forget about protesting. 

“What, if all the 20 registered parties decide to have demonstrations? Will we have space and time for other developmental activities? Of course we will be witnessing demonstrations in all the 365 days of the year,” Dr Bana says. Prof Mpangala, and Mr Parit Sarun, a lecturer at the Mwalimu Nyerere Memorial University, say the Opposition must not give up.

“For a politician, giving up is like committing (career) suicide. They should keep on negotiating. They should not boycott Parliamentary sessions because they are one of the platforms they could use to air their views,” Mr Sarun says, adding that the Registrar of Political Parties should, at this stage, intervene to ensure obstacles that deter political parties’ activities are removed.

Prof Mpangala says the opposition should continue fighting for their legal and constitutional rights in the courts of law.

“Even when they fail to meet their demands they shouldn’t give up. Other stakeholders such as the media, civil society organisations, academicians and rights groups should support them by issuing declarations aimed at opposing the President’s order,” Prof Mpangala says. 

“The pressure should be increased until the government agrees to negotiate with the Opposition and resolve the political dispute,” Prof Mpangala adds. Mr Mbowe who was the 2005 presidential candidate, says the Opposition is ready to sit on the table with CCM to negotiate how to go about politics in the country for the benefit of all Tanzanians.

“We are ready to negotiate if any individual, civil society organisations, the Registrar of Political Parties or any other political stakeholders will volunteer to bring us together so as to rescue the country’s peace and security as we did in 2010 through the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD),” Mr Mbowe says.  Mr Mbowe, however, doubts President Magufuli will agree to a roundtable meeting with the Opposition.

“President Magufuli seems to have no interest in ending the ongoing political impasse. Even worse is the fact that his advisors are afraid of telling him the truth,” Mr Mbowe says. 

He adds that President Magufuli should change his leadership style especially as he is about to become the CCM leader. 

“Leading the government and the party at the same time is tricky. He would have to have more respect to the Constitution, the laws of the land, rules and regulations. He should also be able to differentiate between his roles as the chairman of CCM and the President of Tanzania,” Mr Mbowe said.