Of opposition parties and their political calculations

Monday September 28 2020

 

By Erick Mwakibete

Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo have struck a political ‘deal’ whose exact details are still unknown. What is known though, from various statements of some of the leaders is that they have hammered a ‘deal’ to have a united front as the October general election approaches. This comes after days of confusions and what was interpreted by some to be conflicting statements from ACT-Wazalendo’s leaders. However, there was nothing conflicting about these statements.

The underlying message was clear: something had to give.

From the outset of this year’s election campaigns there were many questions hanging over the viability of ACT-Wazalendo’s Union presidential candidate, Bernard Membe. He has no clear constituency and is definitely not the man of the hour in opposition parties in this election. ACT-Wazalendo’s launch of their election campaign in Lindi did not have the desired impact despite being attended by some of the party’s bigwigs. From there things went downhill and their rallies rarely made headlines.

At this point ACT-Wazalendo’s leaders had realized they had overestimated the political influence of their Union presidential candidate. When ACT-Wazalendo’s chairman and their Zanzibar presidential candidate spoke at a rally in Zanzibar that he supported Chadema’s Union presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, and not their own presidential candidate, it was all but certain where they were headed as a party in this year’s election. Zitto Kabwe, the party leader told another rally in Tabora that ACT-Wazalendo and Chadema had reached a deal which will be made public at another coming rally in Dar es Salaam.

Kabwe’s statement was preparing his party members and supporters against any accusations of backstabbing their presidential candidate who has less than three months since he joined their party and declared that he left CCM because there is no “democracy” there. Some reports suggest that he was caught unaware with the deal struck by the two parties. If this is true then it is in line with how political deals are struck in opposition parties where the workings and goings of these parties are known by a select few.

It is a political ‘deal’ that has come too late and will not have the desired outcome of defeating CCM in October. Some political miscalculations, stubbornness and greed back in 2015 cost the opposition some parliamentary constituencies. The reasons given are nothing new like Maalim Seif’s political clout in Zanzibar. So, why is it being pushed ahead anyway?

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There are few things which are obvious. It is no secret that opposition parties are struggling with their finances hence a deal would concentrate limited funds into battles worth fighting for. After all, when the dust from this election finally settles, party finances will not be in the best of shape for either of the two parties.

The personalities and policies of Maalim Seif and Lissu, especially when it comes to the structure of the Union aligns. Even during the turmoil of the 2015 general election and its aftermath which affected their parties (in Maalim Seif’s case his previous party, CUF), they continued to have a good working relationship.

There are also short term political prospects at play. The new allies will find it to their best interest to work together in the coming parliament where the numbers of opposition MPs are likely to be a mere fraction of what they were in the previous parliament if CCM’s gamble in some constituencies pays off.

Where does all this leave Membe, a politician with his own political ambitions?

The hype about his presidential campaign is all but gone and his political prospects are in such a quagmire. In all certainty, ACT Wazalendo and Chadema’s ‘deal’ will sideline him given the political support Chadema’s Union presidential candidate enjoys. The options ahead for him are all humiliating. He ventured into opposition politics to try his luck with the run at the presidency something he could not accomplish in CCM but appears impossible in the opposition as well.

He could stay, put a brave face and support the alliance’s candidate in the guise of doing all he can to defeat CCM at the polls. Or he could opt to return to his “political home” as many before him have done. That would require him asking for forgiveness first, but he has not spent “enough” time in the political wilderness and the feelings are still raw, he is unlikely to pick this route for now. The last one could be to declare he is “retiring” from politics and not (re)joining any political party, buy time and then make a political U-turn.

In recent years, opposition parties have continued to struggle with high profile CCM exits, and this could have some unintended consequences of strengthening CCM where those who contemplate the exit door might not find appealing what awaits them beyond it.

On the bright side, 2020 election campaigns are not a dud affair after all.

Email: wmashambani@gmail.com