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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Is multiparty politics taking shape in Tanzania?

8th April 2012

Much has been said and written since the results of by-elections held countrywide on April 1, 2012 were officially announced at the beginning of the week, but the theme remains too hot to be considered as mere history, for there is a lot a sober pen can write once the proverbial dust has settled. I mean there are many angles to approach this interesting political subject.

As most of my readers know, at stake in the historic by-elections was an exercise to fill Ward Councilors slots in difference parts of country, which fell vacant due to a number of reasons, as well as electing an MP for the Arusha-based Arumeru East Constituency, following the death of a former legislator.

The three-week campaign period as well as the climax of the event was characterised by public excitement, anxiety and, in some cases, fun in all the areas involved. However, it is in Arumeru East Constituency where we witnessed a do- or- die political encounter.

As mentioned earlier, there are many angles open to those interested in revisiting the event for the purpose of learning a few lessons which can help us to shape the political future of our motherland, especially at this critical time when we are busy working on the noble idea of writing a new constitution.

Aspects of the by-election reflected on so far include the performance of the National Electoral Commission, role of the security forces, role of the media, nature of the campaign and behavior of the contestants and their supporters.

Those who happened to be on the spot or spots and the rest of us who followed the events by way of various media outlets, especially the television which bring viewers close to reality, must have witnessed what can simply be summarised in one of the old but not outdated expressions - that is, old habits die hard.

We are referring to campaigns characterised by hot air at the expense bread-and-butter issues affecting the electorate, physical confrontation which left some unfortunate players and bystanders bed-ridden, occasional use of excessive force by police in the process of keeping peace, engagement in some form of electoral corruption, vote rigging attempts, and you name it. The only conclusion here is that there is still much to do to put things in order, insofar as election management is concerned.

Our interest in this commentary, as the title suggests, is to grapple with the question of whether the multiparty politics practice is heading to the right direction and promise to justify its presence in the near future, or remain a mere formality, whose impact on our wish to improve the democratic process and good governance on the whole is negligible.

In the case of the Arumeru East parliamentary by-election, seven political parties, nearly one third of registered parties, participated in the race. When however, the starting whistle was blown, only two now undisputable giants in the country’s political game, that is the ruling CCM and its rival CHADEMA, visibly fought it out to the last atom of their strength.

The final results where the CHADEMA candidate winner scooped 54.34 percent of the votes, the CCM flag bearer got a significant 44.32 percent and the remaining five candidates shared a negligible 1.34 percent, validates the above observation. A similar situation was witnessed in the by-election of councilors and even in the Igunga parliamentary by election held one year ago.

The scenario is different in Zanzibar where CCM and CUF stand out as major political parties. Indeed, CUF enjoys significant popularity in some areas in Tanzania mainland, but internal conflicts have crippled its performance substantially.

This scenario indicates that as time passes by, real men are being separated from the boys insofar as the multiparty political game is concerned. It seems in the near future we are likely to have only three or four political parties worth writing home about, and tens of parties playing the role of mere escorts.

The implication is that the few parties with national presence, good organization, and sound financial muscles are also likely to compete effectively and create a situation where any of them which happens to take over the reigns of power cannot afford to be complacent, big headed and short-sighted.

Experience worldwide shows that the multiparty political system works effectively where there are a few strong parties which play a watchdog role on each other, as opposed to having a plethora of useless political parties. What is unfolding is, indeed, a blessing in disguise. May God help to guide this process


Henry Muhanika is a media consultant

Email: [email protected]

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