New dawn for parties after five years in political oblivion

Monday May 31 2021
Political party pic

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe greets party supporters upon his arrival in Bunda District, Mara Region, yesterday. PHOTO | CORRESPONDENT

By Alfred Zacharia

Dar es Salaam. Opposition political parties are beginning to find their voice again after being almost totally silenced in the last five years.

A few months after he was sworn in for his first term in office in 2015, the late President John Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, banned Opposition parties from conducting political activities until the next elections which were held last October.

The order, which was zealously enforced by the Police Force and regional and district administrators effectively paralysed Opposition parties which normally depend on public meetings to rally grassroots support.

A number of party officials were arrested after they were accused of defying the order.

However, with the demise of Dr Maguful in March, Opposition have started to enjoy the kind of freedom they last tasted in the run-up to the 2015 elections.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan reached out to Opposition parties in April when she promised to meet with them, and discuss how best they can conduct political activities for the benefit of the country.

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During the recent by-election in Muhambwe Constituency in Kigoma Region, which the ruling CCM won, Opposition paries which contested the seat said the vote was free and fair.

Indeed, Opposition parties are now conducting political activities without fear of their leaders being arrested and locked up as was the case for nearly five years since early 2016.

For instance, Chadema is currently holding internal meetings countrywide with an eye on the 2025 elections.

ACT-Wazalendo is strengthening itself at the grassroots by building the necessary structures at the village and district levels.

ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe told The Citizen yesterday that the political situation in the country was basically unchanged, although there were some improvements in some basic freedoms.

“Yes, there is a new president who has created some breathing space on matters of fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech and the media regaining some freedom. Opposition parties are now freer to meet. However, obstacles to democracy still exist in the form of electoral laws and the Political Parties Act,” he noted.

Mr Kabwe said the party welcomes the opening up of civic space, and would work to ensure that legislative changes follow.

“Our utmost priority is the formation of an independent election commission, and review of the Political Parties Act by removing provisions that essentially criminalise politics. We are working towards that goal through the Tanzania Centre for Democracy, which is a platform that brings together all parties with representatives in Parliament,” he said. The party’s participation in the by-elections in Muhambwe and Buhigwe as well as five wards has shown that Tanzanians are ready to embrace change despite the existence of a toxic political environment in the last five years.

“It is the objective of ACT-Wazalendo to work together with other stakeholders to rebuild Tanzanian democracy and make it a resilient one. Our mindset is that of 1992 when parties were allowed for the first time,” Mr Kabwe added.

“Our number one priority is the Political Parties Act,and the electoral law so that we can finally have a truly independent electoral commission. The other thing which is a national agenda is the Constitution,” he added.

The Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC) said it was making final preparations for a countrywide tour during which it will conduct internal meetings and public rallies meant to recruit new members.

ADC national chairman Hamad Rashid Mohamed said yesterday that the party’s executive committee is pleased with the current political situation.

“We are happy that President Hassan wants to meet with us to deliberate on better means of doing politics in the country. Our executive committees asks that she do this as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr Mohammed urged Opposition parties to come up with a common agenda that would be presented during their meeting with President Hassan.

“I understand that every party has its own agenda and priorities, but it is also important to put our agenda together and present them to President Hassan,” he said.

The parties, according to him, may conduct a meeting under the political parties’ council through the Registrar of Political Parties’ office and discuss what to raise during the meeting.