After nearly two decades since the multiparty political system was reintroduced in Tanzania, one would have expected key players in the political game to have learned the basics of going about it as required. We are talking about re-introduction of this brand of politics because it existed at independence, only to be banned by the then ruling powers, for one reason or another.
But, as the saying goes, if wishes were horse all of us would be riding comfortably. It appears the multiparty politics re-introduced to promote democracy is heading towards the wrong direction, creating justifiable worry among political analysts and other peace loving members of the public. There are many signs on the horizon to demonstrate the raised concern. In fact one can do justice to this theme through a book or books
As we wait for this proposal to happen, we may as well make a few observations to stimulate debate and alert society on the danger ahead. The high court ruling on Igunga constituency by- election petition, this week, provides a few hints which clearly indicate that the way multiparty politics is being practiced in our midst leaves much to be desired. It seems political parties are all out to demonstrate that politics is a dirty game - especially during elections.
By the way, we can afford to make reference to the Igunga by-election petition court ruling simply because, although it is said the loser might appeal, he is yet to do so. This implies that the possibility of interfering with court proceedings does not arise at this juncture. We are very much aware that the court based its verdict on a number of complaints raised by the petitioner, which it upheld after being satisfied with the evidence adduced during the hearing of the case.
One of the complaints addressed was the allegation by the ruling party top functionary that the competitors hired foreign commandos to disrupt the exercise. This was considered by many to be a serious threat to both Igunga elections and national security. There was no evidence to prove the claim then, and none has been made available to the court. But the question is: why go this far for the sake of winning a single parliamentary seat?
There was this incident of distributing food to hungry residents in the constituency at the climax of the election campaign. This was a clear case of using food purchased with funds from the public coffers, as a political weapon. The judge concluded that this intervention might have influenced some voters, as the principle of “scratch my back and I scratch yours” is likely to apply in such situations. Other observers say this is simply one of the crudest forms of electoral corruption.
Of course, the fact that the malpractice has boomeranged, thanks to the judicious stand of the court, means key actors in political parties have probably learned a lesson or two, much as the culture of learning from past mistakes is yet to take root in our society.
We are told the court also probed the allegation that an influential Minister on the campaign bandwagon at that time told the electorate that an essential bridge would only be constructed in the area if voters demonstrated support to the party he represented. But funds for such a project were to come from treasury, and not the ruling party, for that matter.
In short the promise by the Minister was absurd, to put it mildly, but the court took it seriously. The only “good” effect about the incident is that it also provides a lesson to bureaucrats-cum-politicians.
Another campaigner of the petition case losing side is said to have circulated information that the opposition contender had withdrawn from the race. Again the court was satisfied with the evidence made available to prove the allegation. This one is a dirty campaign trick, which can only be resorted to by novices in election campaign business.
Apart from the Igunga saga we are now witnessing incidents of young men being used to disrupt political rallies organised by rival political parties. In some of these incidents property has been destroyed and people have been injured. This should not be allowed to continue. Religious and tribal cards are also being increasingly employed in the campaign to win the hearts of party followers in society.
On the whole, we need to re-examine the modus operandi of our multiparty political system. It is also important to include clauses in the new constitution which can help us to tame this wild goose.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)