Polarised politics poses fresh democracy threat

Wednesday November 8 2017

Crying foul: Opposition leaders, from right

Crying foul: Opposition leaders, from right Prof Ibrahim Lipumba (CUF), former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa (Chadema), Freeman Mbowe (Chadema) and James Mbatia (NCCR-Mageuzi). Analysts have warned against the prevailing political divisions in the country pitting government against the main opposition.  PHOTO I FILE 

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

Dar es Salaam. Analysts have warned that the current polarised political environment in Tanzania portends ill for the future of democracy, and may reverse the gains of multipartyism if no effort is made to reverse the trend.

They were speaking in several interviews this week with Political Platform.

There seems to be unanimous agreement among the analysts that the widening divisions between the two major political players -- pitting the ruling CCM government one one hand against the opposition on the other -- is a recipe for disaster.

“We should be worried about where we are going as a nation because these current divisions are not good at all,” says Dr Frank Tily of the University of Dar es Salaam.

Tension between the government and opposition has increased over the past two years as the two sides take their differences to unprecedented levels since the gradual adoption of multipartyism in the early 1990s.

While the source of conflict between the government and opposition may be as old as multipartyism, many trace the current stalemate to two years ago when the fifth phase administration launched what critics say is a deliberate and systematic crackdown against dissenting voices.

The government banned political rallies last year a few months after President John Magufuli assumed power, saying cheap politicking would distract the new CCM administration from delivering on its election pledges.

This decision sparked a backlash from the opposition coalition led by Chadema, and it was the begnning of a series of events that widened the cracks in the political arena.

Softent its stance

Despite the government’s decision to soften its stance on the ban by allowing rallies to be held only in areas where one is a representative did not help much. The opposition wants the ban completely lifted.

The subsequent arrests and attacks of opposition leaders, accusations of what the opposition says is ‘state capture’ of the National Assembly and the alleged bias of law enforcement agencies have all worked to further divide the country’s major political actors. The refusal by the fifth phase administration to complete the new constitution process has not made the situation any better.

Positive changes

On the other hand, despite the positive changes that the current government has effected in its first two years, the opposition has seemingly decided to pour cold water on the momentum, condemning the administration for allegedly blowing its reforms agenda out of proportion for political gain.

In marking President Magufuli’s first two years in power on Sunday, the Director of Information Services and Government Chief Spokesperson, Dr Hassan Abbas, said the fifth phase administration had scored 10 major goals in the past 24 months.

He listed the restoration of public service discipline, fiscal discipline, the anti-corruption drive, mining reforms and financial discipline as some of the achievements attained so far. The government spokesperson also noted the shifting of the government to Dodoma, scaling down on donor dependency, the rolling out of the Standard Gauge Railway project, breathing of new life into national carrier Air Tanzania and the ambitious industrialisation drive.

Granted, the majority of these achievements have earned the government praise beyond the borders in the East African Community (EAC) and the African continent in general.

Many across the continent have described President Magufuli as a visionary leader -- a view that back at home the opposition that accuses him of heavy-handedness has decided not to share.

Dr Hamad Salim, a political scientist from the Open University of Tanzania, says the current polarisation is a result of the country’s borrowed concept of democracy, which “was not born from within”.

It’s more of an imposition from abroad,” he says. “So we opened up without being fully prepared.”

Divergent views

A UDSM political science and public administration assistant lecturer, Mr Elijah Kondi, has a more positive outlook of what he says are “divergent political views” in the country.

“Opposing views are a basic tenet of any democracy. They are the founding principle of a multiparty system,” he tells Political Platform.

He is, nevertheless, quick to point out that what is key is to keep opposition views within the confines of the country’s legal framework.

“Problem come when something is constitutionally guaranteed, but the people are denied the opportunity to enjoy it. That, cultivates hatred, whose result is what we are experiencing now.”

Prof George Shumbusho from Mzumbe University says the current situation poses a genuine threat to unity among the people; more so, it may derail the government’s own development agenda if it is allowed to persist.

“Dialogue is important,” he says. “People should sit together and talk. This eases tension and friction.”

Prof Shumbusho points out that the current situation affects President Magufuli more, for this reason, he believes that the head of state should take the initiative to bring the country together and let everyone play their part in nation building.

“There are people the President has a lot of respect for. He can undoubtedly listen to them. They can fill the current gap. This can go a long way in calming the situation and saving the nation from the imminent danger.”

Dr Tily suggests that the building of a consensual, bipartisan solution is key. He reiterates that the opposition will be key player in nation building, and they should be given space to raise their issues.