EACJ declines to stop Tanzania voter list update

Sunday June 23 2019

Tanzania's Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe

Tanzania's Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe  

By PATTY MAGUBIRA

Tanzania's decision to update voter registers in Arusha and Kilimanjaro from June 23 will go on as scheduled after the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) declined to grant temporary orders to stop the exercise, pending a hearing over an application filed by opposition parties challenging the Political Parties Act, 2019.

The EACJ bench, led by Principal Judge Monica Mughenyi, said the application could only be heard with all parties in attendance and that the government was absent.

Lawyers for the coalition of political parties led by Fatuma Karume had asked the regional court to issue ex-parte orders “for the sake of protecting justice.”

The opposition parties accuse the Tanzania government of prematurely issuing a notice to start updating the voters register in Arusha and Kilimanjaro from June 23, while they and the civil society are prohibited from carrying out civic education.

The Political Parties Act, 2019 requires that any individual or institution intending to conduct civic education in the country serve the Registrar of Political Parties with a 30-day notice before the exercise begins.

“With the government, through the National Electoral Commission, issuing a notice on June 7, it denied political parties, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations the chance to conduct civic education,” Ms Karume told the court. She said the move would deny about 2.5 million young people their constitutional right to be registered to vote.

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Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe, speaking after the court’s ruling, said the government is trying to recapture the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions, which are opposition strongholds.

Opposition parties control the Arusha Region, save for Ngorongoro, which was won by a CCM candidate in the last election. In Kilimanjaro Region, CCM won two constituencies — Same and Mwanga West — out of nine.

“CCM is deliberately trying to deny residents of the two regions an opportunity to vote in 2020 by registering voters in barely seven days,” said Mr Mbowe. He accused the government of ignoring local courts and pushing the limit of the regional one.

The case challenging the new law was filed at the EACJ in April, and Mr Mbowe says the government has not bothered to respond to it.

The ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe said the voters’ register should have been updated at least twice in five years, but this had not happened since the 2015 general election. “We plead with the regional court to fast-track the case,” he said.

The coalition of opposition parties is challenging the Political Parties Act, 2019, which President John Magufuli assented to law in February, 10 days before it was published in the government gazette.

The coalition said the Act violates the EAC Treaty and wants the regional court to stop its enforcement, pending determination of the case.

The Political Parties Act also prohibits political parties from recruiting security guards for leaders despite increasing attacks targeted at them.

The coalition also claims that the Act violates human rights contrary to the country’s Constitution.

Article 19 of the Act, for instance, gives the Registrar of Political Parties the authority to suspend registration of a political party for whatever period it determines.

Once suspended, a party is not allowed to engage in any political activity.