Where the one-party system served us better

Wednesday October 20 2021
Party pic

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during a past election. photo | FILE

By ANDREW BOMANI

Most recently, an important parliamentary by-election took place in Ushetu constituency to elect an MP to replace a former Union minister who had died.

A parliamentary by-election as well took place in Zanzibar as well as at Union ward level. I used the word important by-election deliberately to describe the Ushetu case.

This was not only a seat held by an ex-minister, but also being a mainland one would mean that the stakes were expected to be very high. The end result was anything but ominous in every sense. Not only did CCM win handsomely, but such was the lack of coverage in the country that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that there was no by-election happening at all, never mind at local government level.

This bodes extremely ill for the political health of the country. It is actually an illustration of the progressive deterioration of the state of politics whereby the electorate is left utterly at a loss on their participatory function.

As it were, what counts as Tanzania’s main opposition parties have chosen over the John Magufuli years to boycott a series of by-elections over what they call a complete absence of a level playing field. This particular factor is not in any dispute. It is the unvarnished truth.

The Magufuli regime had got to a point where opposition MPs and councillors would simply defect to the ruling CCM and be directly awarded the party ticket. In the process meant to register unmitigated acclaim for the Sultan, CCM’s faithful members would be compelled to go along with the strange new faces thrust upon them.

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Be that as it were, boycotting continuously by-elections as a way of making a statement in my estimation is just not the way. Let it happen in exceptional circumstances but certainly not become the norm as has happened in Tanzania.

On close examination, what the overall behaviour of the parties highlights is the low regard for the fundamental rights of the voter in the electoral process. Democracy is essentially about the right to elect and be elected. By certain parties boycotting polls, the elector is left with the only option of voting CCM above the inconsequential remaining parties.

A look back in time to the one-party dispensation makes one realize that despite its political limitations, it stood the people in better stead. By this, there was the rather careful selection of two CCM names for parliamentary election. Indeed, it is instructive that in his speech to the CCM Congress in 1992, just prior to the multi-party shift, Mwalimu Nyerere, mentioned that in order to ensure there was unquestionable legitimacy of the winning candidate i.e. attaining above 50 percent of the votes cast, in 1965 it was decided by the then TANU that two candidates rather than three will be presented to the electorate. He made clear that this in fact went in the face of the proposal of the then One-Party Presidential Commission that desired three names.

The net effect of all this most retrogressive politics over the years can only be a significantly reduced number of voters at the various polls.

Some may remember the rather alarming remarks by the all-powerful CCM supremo, Dr Bashiru Ally (later spectacularly fell from grace as the chief secretary) in which he stated that the 2010 voter turnout was low bringing into question the legitimacy of President Kikwete’s government.

In the overall scheme of things, in order to arrest the corrosive effects to Tanzania as a polity, I once again call for independent candidates as an antidote. Regardless of the electoral playing field, this is too fundamental a right - especially in the face of whimsical leadership across the opposition side. At the rate the county is going, the day such a provision obtains, it wouldn’t surprise me that we establish a record of electing the highest number of private candidates on the continent. The parties will rue their business of short-term political advantage to the detriment of fundamental liberties.