Mixed views on Magufuli’s free, fair poll pledge

Tanzania President, John Magufuli

Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli’s assurance that Tanzania would hold free and fair elections later this year has been greeted with scepticism and support by those who spoke to The Citizen.

Addressing the diplomatic corps at a sherry party at State House in the city on Tuesday, President Magufuli told the international community that the elections, slated for October this year, will be free and fair. The Head of State insisted that the government would also allow international agencies and observers to come and monitor the polls process.

The assurance comes just a few weeks after the Opposition, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the international community deemed the civic polls held last November as not being free and fair.

Major opposition parties boycotted the election protesting what they termed as unfair disqualification of their nominees. The opposition have time and again alleged that the ruling party was being favoured in parliamentary and councillorship by-elections.

In the last General Election, the Opposition won 116 seats against the ruling CCM’s 252. However, the opposition has since lost ten seats and over 140 councillors due to defections and other factors. In the by-elections no opposition party managed to defend a seat. In all the scenarios, the Opposition cried foul.

However, President Magufuli’s assurance on Tuesday was welcomed by a section of political stakeholders as others called for a total overhaul of the electoral system so as to put in place an independent electoral body capable of running free and fair elections.

CCM’s Secretariat of Political Affairs and International Relations director Ngemela Lubinga said since the Head of State was the one, who reassured the international community that elections would be free and fair, then there was no need worries. Colonel (rtd) Lubinga, who admitted that he was aware of the complaints aired by the Opposition and other stakeholders, called for calm. “The Head of State has never disappointed us. There is no need to worry. Those who are sceptic of his assurance should understand that he will address any challenges before the general election, if there is any,” said Mr Lubinga.

However, Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) executive director Anna Henga, a senior lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam’s (UDSM) Political Science Department, Prof Bakari Mohamed, and the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) welcomed the President’s remarks with reservations. In principle, they were in agreement that reforms in the country’s electoral system were needed, that is, if the President’s pledge is to be realised come October, 2020.

“I welcome this assurance positively but in my honest opinion, we still have time to address the challenges that the electoral system still has,” said Ms Henga.

She added: “For example, Opposition politicians have for a long time complained that our electoral system wasn’t free and fair, while we (CSOs) were locked out of the November 2019 civic polls as well as in some of by-elections held recently, this must be sorted out.” Prof Bakari argued that there were signs that the October general election wouldn’t be free and fair basing on the experience on last November civic polls.

Speaking to The Citizen, Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) chairman James Mbatia, who is also NCCR Mageuzi national chairman said the President should ‘walk the talk’.

“Making promises is one thing but implementing them is totally a difference thing; the President should set the ball rolling,” said Mr Mbatia.

Former Tanzania Constitution Forum leader Deus Kibamba said it was generally agreed that there was a need for constitutional reforms since most of the concerns have been there since Tanzania re-adopted political pluralism.