Dar es Salaam. Opinion is divided over the record number of aspirants seeking the Union presidency ahead of the October 28 General Election.
Sixteen presidential aspirants have so far picked up nomination forms from the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
Some leaders interviewed yesterday said this pointed to increased awareness of democracy and constitutional rights among political parties and Tanzanians in general.
But others said this was a ploy to ensure that CCM had an easy ride in the presidential election as many of those who had picked up nomination forms were expected to declare their support for the ruling party’s candidate after they are approved by NEC.
There are also those who hold the view that heightened enthusiasm this time around was a result of the ban imposed on political activity in 2016, saying some parties seemed to be enjoying “newfound political freedom” ahead of the elections.
NEC director of elections Wilson Charles said on Tuesday that 16 members of various political parties had collected nomination forms seeking to contest the Union presidency.
The aspirants and their respective parties in brackets listed in order of collecting forms include Mr Seif Maalim Seif (AAFP), Mr Philipo Fumbo (DP), Mr Leopold Mahona (NRA), Mr John Magufuli (CCM), Mr Muttamwega Mgaywa (SAU), Ms Queen Sendiga (ADC), Mr Twalib Kadege (UPDP) and Mr Bernard Membe (ACT-Wazalenda).
Others are Ms Cecilia Mmanga (Demokrasia Makini), Mr Tundu Lissu (Chadema), Mr Hashim Rungwe (Chaumma), Mr Khalfan Mazrui (UMD), Mr David Mwaijojele (CCK), Prof Ibrahim Lipumba (CUF), Mr Jeremiah Maganja (NCCR-Mageuzi) and Mr John Shibuda (ADA-Tadea).
If all 16 aspirants are approved by NEC, the number of candidates on the presidential ballot this year will be exactly double those who contested the presidency in 2015.
In 2010, there were seven candidates, while ten aspirants vied for the presidency in 2005.
Only four candidates were on the ballot in 2000, the same number as in 1995 when Tanzanians voted in the country’s first multiparty general election after the restoration of political pluralism three years earlier.
Political party leaders and political analysts yesterday voiced divergent views on the number of aspirants this year.
“The number of educated Tanzanians who have a much better understanding of democracy has increased over the years. This has led to an increase in the number of candidates seeking elective posts, including the presidency,” said CCM’s secretary of political affairs and international relations, Colonel (rtd) Ngemela Lubinga.
He said the number of presidential candidates had been increasing since 1992 when political pluralism was reintroduced, and attributed this to an improvement in education levels and general understanding of politics and democracy.
But ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe charged that the high turnout of aspirants was “a plot”, saying most of the candidates would drop out with the aim of handing the advantage to CCM’s flag-bearer.
“We know that some of the so-called presidential are unable to raise Sh100,000 for parliamentary nomination forms, let alone Sh1 million for presidential forms. We know them. These are stooges planted by CCM to create the misleading impression that democracy is flourishing in Tanzania,” he told The Citizen.
Chadema deputy secretary general (Tanzania Mainland) Benson Kigaila echoed Mr Kabwe’s sentiments, saying he saw CCM’s hand in the record turnout of candidates.
“However, the ploy will fail miserably because most of these parties are tiny outfits that won’t have any significant impact in the presidential election. Most of them have not fielded even a single parliamentary or civic candidate. CCM is wasting its time if it thinks it can use such parties to its advantage,” he said.
Mr Kigaila added that any attempt to split the opposition vote was bound to fail because most of the aspirants who had picked up presidential nomination forms were “inconsequential”.
CCK secretary-general Renatus Muabhi lashed out at what he said was the selfishness of big opposition parties.
“The problem is that big opposition parties have no time for cooperation with smaller parties, and think that they can dislodge CCM from power even if they go it alone,” he said.
Mr Muabhi added that most of the smaller parties were strapped for cash to the extent that they were unable to give their members bus fare so that they could attend nomination meetings.
“Where are these parties going to get the money needed to send their candidates to at least ten regions to collect guarantors’ signatures and hold countrywide campaigns scheduled to commence later this month?” he queried.
He predicted that most of the aspirants would not return forms, while others will declare their support for candidates from other parties in exchange for “financial and material benefits”.
Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu) lecturer Gaudence Mpangala said the smaller parties were intent on announcing that they still existed in the wake of restrictions imposed on political activity in 2016
“Political parties, particularly the smaller ones, would like to take this opportunity to show their supporters and the public in general that they are still around after years of almost total silence,” he said.
Prof Mpangala added that most parties fancied their chances in this year’s elections after carefully weighing CCM’s successes and failures in the last five years.
NEC director of elections Wilson Charles said presidential aspirants had exercised their constitutional right to vote and be voted for.
“We have no business raising queries whether aspirants will pull out and support other candidates because that is their right too,” he said.
Col Lubinga said CCM had no plan to seek the support of any opposition candidate ahead of the elections.
“We are not ready to be accused of buying off opposition candidates. We can stand on our own feet. What we want to see are free and fair elections held in a peaceful atmosphere,” he said.
Col Lubinga added that some parties had fielded presidential candidates solely for financial gain, hoping to get foreign funding through civil society organisations.