A few days ago the registrar of political parties in the country, John Tendwa, who some people claim is at best when engaged in controversy, again threatened non-performing political parties with de-registration. Given the prevailing political heat, this amounts not to playing with fire as such but to fishing in troubled waters.
The targettted political outfits know themselves and have hit back forcefully, spurring the ongoing debate on whether such parties should be outlawed or not.
Of course some observers contend that this is a time wasting exercise, on the grounds that the nation has more pressing challenges to cope with - both natural and man-created. Some of us beg to differ with those who entertain this line of thinking, contending that outlawing or threatening to outlaw a political party in a state which claims to be democratic is not a petty issue.
The basic question here can as well be - when is a political party considered non-performing or performing poorly? Registrar Tendwa is not ambiguous on this.
According to him, a political party which has been around for a number of years and can’t manage to secure a parliamentary seat or two in general elections, or a few seats in local government elections, that is at grassroots level, is literally good for nothing and may as well be forced to close shop.
But threatened political entities argue vehemently that using performance in our brand of elections to gauge their standing in society and take action against them is both unwarranted and unfair.
The point they emphasize here is that elections held since re-introduction of multiparty politics in the country have never been conducted under a level playing field.
They cite the example of the rolling party which makes use of the entire government machinery to get all sorts of mileage during the polls. They even claim that national resources are covertly used to the advantage of the party holding the reigns of power.
Critics of the way elections are conducted go further and state the obvious that money power plays a big role in determining winners, thanks to rampant electoral corruption which has characterized past elections. Indeed, opposition parties have a point here, for elections in the country tend to have many flaws. Some political analysts attribute the low turnout of voters at the polls, as was the case in 2010, as evidence of disillusion resulting from past electoral flaws.
It is, however, also true that even if we agree with the view that the fate of political parties should not depend on election results, yet there are other indicators which can be used to assess them and determine whether they have a future, or are destined to either collapse or remain ineffective.
Yes, it is an open secret that some of the 19 plus political parties operate exclusively in Dar es Salaam, the de facto “capital “of Tanzaniania, have little presence even in other big towns, rarely hold elections as the founders consider them as personal assets, are always in financial doldrums because they have no strong membership base to support them, and their leaders are always busy attending meetings and holding press conferences in the city. One also notes that most of them become active during the elections season.
With the above mentioned modus operandi, some observers rightly conclude that political parties of this kind are their own enemies and have a bleak future. But is it right to subject these limping parties to psychological torture through deregistration threats, even when we know that implementing such threats is easily said than done under the prevailing global political order?
We tend to support those who argue that so long as the weak political parties are not engaging in socially unacceptable practices like promoting divisive politics or disrupting peace in the community, undertaking political activities is their democratic right which must be upheld. Since the law of the jungle, that is “survival of the fittest” is in operation in our society, let these parties be left alone to struggle for their political survival without undue interference.
After all we already have opposition parties which are getting strong enough to effectively play a watchdog role on any party which will be in power at any given time.
This is the rationale of having the multiparty political system in a modern state. When this objective is achieved, why bother about pawns in the political chess game?
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org