Rethinking gender gains from Mukandala taskforce on multiparty democracy in Tanzania

President Samia Suluhu Hassan with members of the Task Force to coordinate the views of the Stakeholders of Multi-Party Democracy, immediately after receiving their report at the State House in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The gender gains in Mukandala’s Taskforce on Multiparty Democracy report can best be described as a call for minimum gender reforms in the democratic landscape in Tanzania

By Victoria Lihiru

The Mukandala Taskforce on Multiparty Democracy submitted its report to President Samia on October 21, 2022.

The Taskforce was formed on the 23 December 2021 by the Registrar of Political Parties in line with the resolution from the 15-17 December 2021 Stakeholders Meeting on Multiparty Democracy, which ostensibly took place as part of president Samia’s efforts to strengthen democracy in the country.

The Taskforce report covered nine areas, including but not limited to, political rallies, the conduct of elections, the participation of women and vulnerable groups in multiparty democracy, and political parties’ subsidies.

The Taskforce’s proposals are likely to guide the President’s democracy agenda for the duration she will be in power, and thus I deem it fit to revisit the Taskforce report and reconsider its recommendations from a gender standpoint.

I agree with the Taskforce’s recommendations to allow national political rallies and non-interference with internal political parties’ meetings. The 2016 ban was inherently unconstitutional, with the just returned political rallies reminding us of the democracy losses we endured in the past six years.

On strengthening intraparty democracy, the Taskforce recommends that representation of any one gender in political parties’ decision-making structures not be below 40 percent. The implementation of this recommendation should reconsider adjusting the gender threshold to 50 percent, in line with the aspirations of the global, regional, and subregional commitments that Tanzania has subscribed to.

Also, the gender threshold should be extended to apply to all political parties’ leadership positions. Presently, the Taskforce gender threshold recommendation is limited to decision-making structures, which in most cases include mkutano mkuu, kamati kuu, and halmashauri kuu. With most political parties, the representation in key decision-making structures is by virtue of one’s position in the party.

If no gender threshold is applied in electing political parties’ leaders from lower to higher leadership positions, there is a danger of missing the gender threshold in the political parties decision-making structures.

The Taskforce recommendations also touch on the issue of political parties financing, with great emphasis on the need for all political parties to receive government subventions. Inadequate finances remain a critical challenge for women’s effective engagement in political processes.

The Taskforce, however, does not provide guidance on how political parties should utilize public funds to, among other things, promote the participation of women and other vulnerable groups in political processes. In other countries, government subventions are used to incentivize political parties to include women and vulnerable groups as members, leaders, and candidates.

In Kenya, for example, the Political Parties Act requires the money allocated to a registered political party to be used for, among other things, promotion of the representation in Parliament and in the county assemblies of women, persons with disabilities, youth, and ethnic and marginalized communities in political life.

On the electoral system, the Taskforce acknowledges the usefulness of the proportional representation electoral system in providing wider avenues for different groups to be represented in electoral positions. The Taskforce, however, hesitates in recommending a transition from Tanzania’s main electoral system, First Past the Post (FPTP), to a PR electoral system because under PR, “the citizens do not vote for their representatives and thus won’t be able to hold their leaders accountable.” The Taskforce is also of the view that PR would be hard to implement in the country because “citizens are accustomed to FPTP.”

Evidence from research has established that the advantages of the PR electoral system outweigh those of the FPTP electoral system. According to International IDEA, while many countries in Africa (42 percent) still employ the FPTP, there is an increasing shift to the PR system (33 percent).

While the Taskforce calls for maintenance of FPTP electoral system, it provides a limited number of recommendations on how the system can be amended to nurture a favorable electoral environment for women.

The Taskforce recommends that the Political Parties Amendment Act be reformed to curb violence against women in politics and elections and requires each political party to have a gender policy. The Taskforce also recommends strengthened monitoring of gender issues in political parties.

The Taskforce is, however, silent on a critical issue, namely, how the political parties are mandated to nominate women candidates. The 2019 Political Parties Amendment Act requires political parties to adhere to gender and social inclusion principles in the nomination of candidates, albeit without providing any gender threshold.

This leaves the parties to exercise discretion in the nomination of candidates. The absence of a candidate gender threshold has generally made the political parties reluctant to nominate women candidates. The fact that the FPTP electoral system requires political parties to place only one candidate per electoral unit contributes to this reluctance.

With only one candidate, parties are under pressure to field a candidate most acceptable to diverse groups of voters. Long-entrenched perceptions that women are apolitical have made nomination committees give emphasis to male aspirants. Since Tanzanian independence in 1961, only a small proportion of women have been nominated. In the 2020 general election, for example, women made up 9.2 percent of all candidates.

There have been previous attempts to embed gender considerations within the FPTP electoral system. For example, the Warioba Draft Constitution reconfigured the FPTP to allow equal representation of men and women in the parliament. It called for each constituency to have a male and female representative.

In its analysis, the Mukandala Taskforce argues that this modality will make it difficult for citizens to hold their leaders accountable because more than one person would be responsible for one constituency, and that it would bring about fights in the case that the male and female MPs are from different political parties.

Both arguments can be mitigated if the arrangement is for each party to field two candidates, a man and a woman, and voters vote for a pair, just like they vote for the president and his running mate, but under this circumstance both representatives have MP status.

The Taskforce also recommends against independent candidates for the reasons that there shall be no institutional mechanism to hold them accountable, which would lead to corruption, affect small parties, and threaten the Union. In June 2013, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights found that requiring individuals to be a part of or sponsored by a political party when seeking election violates their right to freedom of association.

With its recommendations to maintain the unfriendly FPTP electoral system as well as its recommendation against independent candidates, the Taskforce leaves women’s political engagement to largely be through the contested special seats system.

I agree with the Taskforce’s recommendations on the need to institute term limits for women holding special seat positions, the necessity for uniform procedures for political parties’ nomination of women for special seats in line with Article 81 of the Constitution, as well as the importance of women holding special seat positions to receive constituency development funds.

However, without electability status, attachment to a particular geographical location for accountability purposes, and addressing discriminatory practices against women appeal seats happening in the wards, councils, and constituencies, the transition to competitive seats for women special seats will always be blurred.

On strengthening the independence of the NEC, I am perplexed by the Taskforce recommendation for the members of the Electoral Commission to be competitively recruited while their bosses—the chair and vice chair—remain appointed by the President. Unbelievably, the Taskforce okays the government officials to continue managing the elections. Again, the Taskforce recommendations on this aspect is silent on the need to ensure representation of men and women and the gender responsiveness of those delivering the elections.

On managing local elections, the Taskforce hesitates to make any substantive recommendations but calls upon the government to undertake thorough research to better understand how to deliver such elections democratically. While the documentation and production of the sex desegregated report remain a challenge for both local and national elections, they are more alarming with local elections and need immediate fixing.

The Taskforce’s recommendation on the use of technology in the delivery of elections should also pay attention to gender and social inclusion aspects. The Taskforce contains no concrete recommendations on how youth can best take part in democratic processes. Issues such as the age of candidacy and allowing inmates to vote have not been touched.

The gender gains in Mukandala’s Taskforce on Multiparty Democracy report can best be described as a call for minimum gender reforms in the democratic landscape in Tanzania. As they stand, if implemented in full, the recommendations will only move the needle a few inches.

The overhaul and the attainment of substantive transformation in women’s participation in democratic processes call for leveraging the Mukandala recommendations as a stepping stone for revisiting the drawing board.

Victoria Lihiru is a Lecturer of Law at the Open University of Tanzania. Email: [email protected].