CCM primaries are characterized by chaos every election season but it was a refreshing experience this time around. After a record number of its members picked up forms to run as parliamentary candidates, and in the process the party filling up its coffers, it seemed like the long ruling party was headed for another chaotic round of the past repeating itself once again.
However, that was not to be.
Part of the explanation for the relatively uneventful primaries was provided by CCM’s secretary general Bashiru Ally, who said the record number of candidates was due to CCM being the biggest party in the country, its members want to be part of the success of their party’s led-governments, confidence of the candidates in the process, and the confidence of youths in President John Magufuli.
President Magufuli urged his fellow leaders in CCM and those who would supervise the primaries to conduct the exercise with transparency. This was a game changer. The confidence of candidates Dr Bashiru spoke about was made possible with the call for transparency and CCM opened up this year like it has never done before.
In the past, the headlines would have been massively different. They would be filled with defeated candidates casting doubt on the whole process in their constituencies or crying foul because there was no media glare. Everything was done behind closed doors leading to thousand rumours and stories which eventually led those candidates who felt aggrieved and their followers on the exit door or remain within the party and conduct subversive activities to damage the winning chances of the declared winner of the party’s primaries.
The primaries this year, minus the normal headlines of some big names tumbling, old names making a political comeback and political gambles gone south to some of the former presidential appointees to members of the cabinet performing extremely well, there were no headlines of endless Tom and Jerry chases between candidates and law enforcement agencies. This is not to say that the process was free from corruption, after all there were reported incidents which are investigated, but the majority of these stories were not washed in public like some dirty linen as was the case in the past.
The significance of this experiment cannot be understated.
Youths are the majority of the population and have long complained of being marginalized in the political processes. That this age group formed the majority of those who picked up CCM’s nomination forms and participated in the primaries, in the long term gives CCM an edge over its competitors for the youths vote. Historically, young people have tended to vote overwhelmingly for opposition parties or candidates but this could reverse that trend, which is very bad news for the opposition.
CCM has struggled to tap young people on its side. Whether the young people who participated in CCM primaries were a one-time wonder or not, they won’t be the last given the fact that some opposition candidates decided for the exit door to avoid the heavy political headwinds.
The question of those who decamped from the opposition to join CCM has long troubled its rank and file members. While some of these managed to win their primaries, the majority performed extremely poorly, a testament that they are yet to be fully accepted within the party at the grassroots level. However, the success or near success of some of them is another testament of a party doing all it can to weaken further opposition parties.
Voting is just a small part of an election process and there are many things which happen behind the scenes before votes are cast. For this reason, even winners cannot fully celebrate yet until Dodoma has had its final say. This could spare CCM the worst fallout of its primaries process of the previous years. Even those who might opt to decamp to the opposition will struggle to justify their decision and in the political wilderness their chances are very poor.
And then there is party chairman, President Magufuli. His political opponents accuse of him of squeezing the political space to the point where some of them have anchored their political prospects on the issue for the coming October general election. However, within CCM, he is definitely onto something. While the country has always watched closely what happens within CCM during elections, this year the process was brought to everyone through the wonders of technology.
CCM engaged more than its own members and those who cast their votes. The primaries process was a portrait of a party trying to change for the better; it was a portrait of a party trying to find the way out of the rat race. It was a good start.