Tanzanians have ability to ensure that the General Election is free

28Oct 2020
The Guardian
Tanzanians have ability to ensure that the General Election is free

​​​​​​​TODAY is voting day in this year’s General Election, and our country has yet another opportunity to demonstrate to the world that there is a firm intention to organise peaceful polls.

This ought to be the case despite political tensions that unavoidably exist here as in any other country in the world. Contrary to what it may first appear, the task seems tougher than expected, though by the end of preparations yesterday there was nothing really out of hand as such. It was even more urgent that all stakeholders exercise restraint, first.

At the time that preparations were being completed, a team of elections observers from member states of the East African Community (EAC) had already arrived, led by former Burundi president Sylvestre Ntibantunganya.

He is leading a mission of 59 observers who are being posted to 13 regions across the country to observe the voting tomorrow.

Ntibantunganya told the media that the observers were drawn from functional bodies in the EAC region and Secretariat that have an interest in the polls.

Tanzanian citizens aren’t part of the observer mission as per the rules of EAC election observation, and the mission’s report will be presented to ministries for EAC Affairs in partner states and thus to the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

Observer teams have been dispatched to Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Unguja, Pemba, Lindi, Mtwara, Dodoma, Mbeya, Kigoma, Singida, Kilimanjaro, Morogoro and Mwanza regions. It means that, apart from social media postings, any wrongdoing will be observed on the spot.

Already there were plenty of images and statements of concern from diplomatic missions and the United Nations, which serves to underline that there is a credibility gap that must be covered in the last hours, so to speak, of election organisation.

There must be sufficient assurance and explicit demonstration of good faith in the various steps taken by election organisers, like schedules of swearing in party agents in respective polling stations, and even with regard to early voting by a section of public officers. Indeed, transparency is vital.

What the EAC observer mission seeks to do is basically what everyone wants to see, which is building public confidence in electoral processes by encouraging voters and stakeholders to freely participate in elections.

This requires an environment that promotes competition and tolerance without intimidation or violence, if one borrows from remarks by former president Ntibantunganya. From the look of it, the teams will have plenty on their hands in challenges, weaknesses, opportunities or strengths in the current poll.

While the former president was on the wavelength of the mission working to figure out what needs to be considered for the improvement of electoral practices in a member country and within the community, the task for the host country is far more complicated and urgent.

The polls aren’t an experiment in ‘what works, what doesn’t and why’ but a show of intent, which must show integrity so as to be credible, and in addition, there is nowhere to hide wrongdoing. Public agencies have every reason to wish to pass this test.

However, there is a dimension to the observer mission that isn’t being raised intensely enough in the public education effort by NEC.

Ntibantunganya said the mission seeks to assess the legitimacy of the electoral process and its results in accordance with international standards. That is a rather stiff climb, though generally understandable.

Indeed, it is to be assumed that all Tanzanians appreciate the fact that it is in the nation’s interest for today’s General Election to prove its worth as free, fair, transparent and peaceful as humanly possible.

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