Two well documented incidents are a clear pointer to the fact that our honourable MPs are veering towards a dangerous path of politicising the constitution making process, by taking a partisan stand along political party lines. This does not augur well for both the ultimate outcome of the envisaged new constitution and the future of our motherland.
The first incident refers to what happened in Parliament when the Constitutional Review Act, 2011 bill was tabled for discussion for the controversial “second” reading in November, 2011.
The currently popular opposition Party for Democracy and Development (CHADEMA) had earlier vehemently opposed the tabling of the bill for the second time, arguing that since the document was rejected on being introduced for the first time in the House under urgency cover. Pretending that the November presentation was a second reading not only left much to be desired, but probably had hidden sinister motives behind.
CHADEMA and the civil society movement had also argued then that apart from having clauses curtailing democratic participation of stakeholders at every stage of the process, the rejected document was in English language, and had not been circulated widely to enable the citizens to give their vital input in the important national exercise.
As we are informed, CHADEMA legislators boycotted the sessions earmarked for debate on the Constitutional Review Act 2011 bill, thus leaving the stage for the majority CCM legislators and a few MPs from the opposition Civic United Front and NCCR-Mageuzi to run the show. What happened during the November 2011 house “debate” on this crucial bill was too dramatic to be forgotten by whoever takes the constitution writing exercise seriously, and is likely to confound constitution historians in future.
We witnessed party partisanship at its worst, as nearly every ruling party legislator who took the floor to contribute to the “debate” poured vitriol on the apparently uncooperative opposition party, as issues related to the bill’s content were totally kept aside.
At the end of the day, the one-sided superficial debate produced the results expected under such circumstances – that is the bill sailed through without any substantial queries, even in areas clearly questionable when examining such vital document.
Making amendments in the constitutional review law endorsed by the President after holding consultative meetings with delegations of various political parties and civil organisations, was yet another incident which revealed that suspicion and taking uncompromising positions based partly on loyalty and, in some cases, excessive fanaticism, are some of the tendencies rearing their ugly heads as MPs kick-start the constitution making project.
The tabling of amendments hitherto scheduled for February 6, 2012 had to be postponed to a later date to allow political operators to iron out differences in the ruling party MPs’ camp. Some legislators had vowed to shoot down the proposed amendments on the grounds that they basically originated from the opposition camp.
The short-sighted thinking behind this kind of mentality is that this could give the opposition some political mileage, and a bit of prestige. The feeling of shame that it was unwise to endorse the bill wholesale for the sake of flexing muscles to make a point or two to the opposition parties can also not be ruled out.
Tanzanians are not impressed by this attitude displayed by some MPs on both sides of the political divide because constitution writing is definitely a serious national project with long–term implications to society.
Hence, our MPs ought to understand that their contribution to this mission must aim at promoting national interests and not parochial ones. They also ought to understand that while individuals and political parties grow, get aged and inevitably die, the country is there to stay - unless there is a rare divine intervention of biblical proportions.
An MP who can’t appreciate this reality is not only unfit for this high public office, but also stands to be condemned by history. Indeed, one may even dare say that his or her patriotism becomes questionable.
We hope the legislators who have made a misstep at the beginning of this long constitutional journey will wake up as soon as possible and live to the voters’ expectations.
They also stand to gain by shifting the gear to the correct path, given that the people are watching and are getting politically enlightened as time passes.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)