Opposition gives Chenge tough time over independence of electoral body

Tuesday May 19 2020

 

By William Shao @TheCitizenTZ news@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Towards the October 1995 General Election, political parties and stakeholders started to lose confidence in the National Electoral Commission (NEC), which they blamed for not being free and fair because its leaders were CCM cadres.

They called for the disbandment of the electoral body and formation of a new organ comprising representatives from political parties.

NEC was formed on January 13, 1993, six months after the reintroduction of a multiparty political system on July 1, 1992.

In accordance with article 74(1) of the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, NEC is led by chairperson with members appointed by president.

Judge Lewis Makame was the first chairman of NEC followed by Judge Damian Lubuva, who started working for the body on December 19, 2011.

Constitutionally, NEC is authorized to manage and coordinate the running of presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Advertisement

When calls to dissolve NEC mounted, Attorney General Andrew Chenge, on May 22, 1995, declared NEC would not be disbanded as the opposition demanded.

He said NEC was principally established and being run by the Constitution and that any move to disband the body must be justified by change of the constitution, which he, however, maintained would be impossible due to the time limit as the October 1995 General Election was just around the corner.

“It is not easy to disband NEC unless there is sufficient evidence that its members are not suitable and independent,” he said, adding that the opposition was raising complaint without reading the constitution.

However, Chenge failed to agree or not to disagree that the officials of the NEC were members of CCM as claimed by the opposition.

“Actually, I cannot speak about this issue because NEC members have been appointed by the president and I don’t know if they really admit not being members of any political party... what I know is that they are there to do justice,” said Chenge.

However, he said his ministry had accepted some proposals of a committee formed by the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Sitta and which were already tabled in Parliament.

The proposals that were presented to the minister in April 1995 include NEC workers should not be members of any political party and that the latter were supposed to declare so when appointed.

Reacting to the opposition’s statement that NEC was not supposed to make the final decision on who should be president, Chenge said the matter was rejected because the country’s Constitution bars any party or individual to file a petition in court to challenge name of the declared by NEC. “You could say I’m against it, but it is impossible to do so,” insisted Chenge.

The following day, on May 23, NEC deputy chairman Judge Augustine Ramadhani said his body was intending to invite foreign election observers.

Judge Ramadhani said he had to make that statement after the issue was raised by participants of a two-day seminar on democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Initially, NEC said it would not invite foreign election observers, despite the fact that he had explained they were free to come into the country.

However, a day later, Judge Ramadhani denied making a statement at a seminar on democracy, the rule of law and human rights that NEC intended to invite international election observers.

“These are just the issues of minutes discussed in the seminar,” he said in his report, denying making the statement. However, he reverted to NEC’s previous statement that the international election observers would not be invited “but they are welcome.”

Chadema chairman, Edwin Mtei said disbandment of NEC would help president elect not to go against the constitution by disbanding NEC prematurely as stipulated in the Constitution.

“Even if the Constitution says NEC should work all the years without being dissolved, people have no confidence in it,” said Mtei.

He said the resignation of Mark Bomani so that he could contest the presidency on the CCM ticket yet another proof that the NEC workers were still members of CCM.

“If the government intends of embrace true democracy in the country, then NEC has to be dissolved so that new members can be appointed” said Mtei.

The coalition of four opposition parties said in their joint statement: “...since NEC was formed by all CCM members, then it was hard for it to run free and fair elections.”

The parties were CUF, UMD, PONA, TADEA, NRA, TLP and UDP. They said they believed the government would take action after realising the truth. They also threatened to boycott the polls until a national meeting to discuss and deliberate on their request was held.

On May 26, the United Democratic Party (UDP) requested President Ali Hassan Mwinyi to disband NEC.

The chairman of the party, who was also the presidential contestant on the party’s ticket, John Cheyo, said his party was disappointed by Chenge’s statement that “he was not sure” whether the NEC workers were CCM members.

“That is enough proof that NEC has to be disbanded ... as a judge, how do you feel being in a commission that is blamed by nearly all people?... So, where can they run the election while observers of justice are within the same body and we are going to meet them in court?” queried Cheyo. Later that day, on May 26, six opposition parties filed an application in the High Court that sought permission to challenge the results of the 1995 polls.

The parties were the National League for Democracy (NLD), Popular National Party (PONA), Tanzania Labour Party (TLP), National Reconstruction Alliance (NAREA), Tanzania Democratic Party (TADEA) and Union for Multi-Party Democracy (UMD).

All the parties were defended by two lawyers from Dodoma Region, Dominic Mbezi and Richard Rweyongeza.

In their application, the parties also wanted all the 40 “oppressive” laws identified by the Nyalali Commission be repealed. However, for all their efforts, NEC was not disbanded as it went on to oversee the first multiparty political polls held on October 29, 1995.