There is currently a nationwide debate over Chadema MPs’ decision to walk out of the Parliamentary chamber last Thursday evening when President Jakaya Kikwete was inaugurating the 10th Parliament. Did the move give the party a political mileage?
Some analysts say it definitely did. But others saw it as immaturity in Tanzanian politics. The President and Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda criticised the incident which happened in the presence of development partners. The general public also watched the walk out in a live TV broadcast.
The Chadema legislators waited until all national leaders, development partners and members of the diplomatic corps had entered Parliament. No sooner had President Kikwete uttered the first sentence of his maiden speech than Chadema MPs stood up in unison and walked out, causing the head of state to pause briefly as if to let them leave the chamber as they wished.
However, some legislators, including Kigoma North MP Kabwe Zuberi Zitto, Ubungo MP John Mnyika and Kawe MP Halima Mdee were not among them. It was learnt later that the missing MPs had not entered the Chamber by the moment the other MPs were seated ready to listen to the President.
Observers are curious about what transpired in a conversation between the axed Speaker Samuel Sitta and the leader of the official opposition in Parliament Hai MP Freeman Mbowe a few minutes before President Kikwete and other top national leaders entered the Parliamentary debating chamber.
The former Speaker Sitta rose up from his seat before walking past other MPs to where Mbowe was seated and talked for about three minutes. It looked as if Sitta was giving Mbowe some advice.
On Thursday evening, after President Kikwete had delivered his speech Mbowe spoke to a handful of reporters and explained why they walked out. Mbowe, who is also Chadema National Chairman, said the decision was meant to register their protest over what he described as unfriendly election legal framework and environment that gave President Kikwete victory.
He said Chadema MPs did not violate any law and that their action was common practice in all democratic parliaments worldwide. Singida East MP Tundu Lissu, citing the country’s constitution, agreed with Mbowe - adding that a refusal to recognise the elected leader or walking out of Parliament, in an effort to register a certain protest, did not constitute an offence.
“It is true under the current constitution once the presidential results have been announced by the national electoral commission such results can not be questioned by any organ in the country. However, no one is compelled to recognise the elected president if he is not satisfied with the manner in which he accented to power,” Lissu said.
Mbowe said although President Kikwete has been bragging of about expanding and cherishing democracy by giving politicians the freedom to practice politics, he has never looked for an opportunity to talk to opposition politicians and listen to their concerns.
By walking out of the Parliament on Thursday, Chadema seem to tell the international community and CCM that they are a party to recon with.
According to an official statement issued on Friday in Dodoma by CCM Secretary for Ideology and Publicity John Chiligati, CCM is ready for talks with anyone who felt aggrieved in the political process.
Over the years, Chadema as well as other opposition parties have repeatedly called for review of the country’s constitution in line with the multiparty democracy setting, including establishing an independent electoral commission.
Under the current constitution, the chairman, the director and all commissioners of the national electoral commission are appointed by the President. He also appoints district and municipal executive directors who usually are returning officers during election and in the process create unequal playing field for opposition politicians.
In what appears to be a changing situation, Chiligati wants the opposition to bring their concerns on the Constitution to Parliament, an organ vested with legal mandate to make laws.
“Chadema have MPs. So, if they have any concerns on the Constitution, they should organise themselves and bring the matter to the House for deliberation,” he said.
Refusal to recognise the presidential results is not a new phenomenon in Tanzania, as CUF did the same in the first multiparty general election in 1995 when the then Zanzibar President Salmin Amour won the election in the Isles.
In 2001 CUF staged a demonstration over the 2000 election results they disputed. However, the government described the demonstration as illegal and in the ensuing fracas between the police and demonstrators, several CUF followers died.
But the refusal by CUF to recognise the Zanzibar government had a serious impact on the Isles politics for almost ten years since all Members of the House of Representatives and Councillors boycotted activities of the House of Representatives and Councils.
Several attempts to reconcile both parties were made until mid this year when the two political parties reached a consensus - the formation of the government of the national unity.
But given the current circumstances whereby the Civic United Front (CUF) has now been turned into an ally of CCM, Chadema would have uphill task to make their major issues to get endorsement in the House.