Disrupting the working of Parliament hold back Tanzanian democracy

02May 2016
Muharram Macatta
The Guardian
Disrupting the working of Parliament hold back Tanzanian democracy

PEOPLE vote for candidates of their choice with the mandate of representing them in parliament. The elected members are meant to discuss and debate various proposed legislations including the current budget 2016/2020.

For a legislation or budget to pass scrutiny of people’s representatives, a healthy debate on the merits, demerits and their implications of the proposed legislation or budget of 2016/2020, is a prerequisite to safeguard people’s interests and the prosperity of our developing nation as a whole.

Debate and dissent are cornerstones of a vibrant democracy and a strong opposition is meant to represent the necessary check and balance on government functioning.

The United Republic of Tanzania’s Parliament has been home to some of the most vibrant and thoughtful debate, with many eager and enthusiastic voices contributing to the shape and direction of Tanzania’s policy and development.

There is no question that the united republic of Tanzania’s biggest achievement since the country became independent has been the practice and maturing of democracy, reflecting true people representation in the Tanzania growth story.

Yes, we have built a strong foundation of democracy but a deeper look reveals cracks that could threaten the very purpose democracy was meant to serve: people’s voice and representation.

What used to be healthy discussion and debate in the first three decades since independence, has now turned into a contest of high decibel cacophony, where the loudest vocal chords dominate the softer ones, not on account of content but sheer decibel.

This, added to frequent disruption to the normal working of parliament, has held back Tanzanian democracy from functioning as the starting point of Tanzania’s policy on growth and development. This is contrary to the purpose of democracy and the nation is paying the price.

Disruption is not restricted to the house of parliament in Dodoma, the legislative capital, at the centre, but the regions too are witnessing frequent disruption, accompanied by unparliamentarily language and unruly behaviour by people’s representatives.

This certainly does not augur well for the united republic of Tanzania that prides itself on being the largest practicing democracy in the south-Sahara. It’s not just democracy but the quality of democracy that defines a nation.

We have pathetically and apparently experienced coordinated walk-outs from the house: opposition parties by themselves or collectively, stage walk-outs to register their protests.

A point of view has been raised that this form of protest is better than disrupting the proceedings in the house. However, non-functioning of parliament cannot, of course, be the price of protest.

Or, it is always common to see specific and identified characters who simultaneously keep on shouting leading to adjournment: this is the most common of disruptions, witnessed virtually on a daily basis.

A distinction has to be made between vociferous debate and shouting with the objective of forcing an adjournment. This individual behaviour among some honourable members is also an extension of the above and on many occasions this has been resorted to such as the monotonous “muongozo” (to a point of order) by various members and political parties, shouting and trying to make a point in parliament.

It’s presently a usual phenomenon for boycott and absenteeism of individuals or specific meetings/sessions: this has been resorted to when specific individuals or meetings based on specific issues have been made the target of boycott by mps especially those forming ukawa. We are not accusing anybody at all in this respect. We beg you!

These are only a few instances amongst many. Speaker after speaker, in the house, have been demanding that all political parties rein in their respective mps and allow the parliament to function.

However, there has been a common lack of political will amongst all parties, to follow the laid down norms of parliamentary behaviour. Recalling what happened at the CONSTITUTION ASSEMBLY (CA) wherein the promise of a new constitution before the 2015 general election would be a defining moment not just for opposition parties but for democratic culture in Tanzania.

It is described the impasse as a “missed opportunity for both sides” - more so if the constitution making process is to be understood as fundamentally about dialogue and consensus building.

It was originally believed that Ukawa’s absence would deny the CA the two thirds majority required to pass constitutional provisions. But not all of the 201 appointed members of the ca walked out.

Some members, although the number is not known, from organisations of persons with disabilities and women, and from institutions of higher learning, opted to remain in the ca for diverse reasons. Historically marginalised groups, in particular, are keen to ensure that their concerns are reflected in the proposed constitution that will be put to a referendum.

Ideological pride aside, their objective is to ensure that their issues obtain constitutional recognition. Thus, while many supported Ukawa in principle, they realised that their room for maneuvers is limited.

Ukawa—it must be recalled—is a coalition comprising some persons from the group of 201 appointed to the constitution assembly by the 4th phase honourable president dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete as well as some members from opposition parties.

Opposition parties are however the true force of the coalition. They have been at the forefront of the boycott. Through the leadership of the chairs of the civic united front (CUF), Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) and National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR)- Mageuzi which are the three main political parties, Ukawa has shown prowess at navigating the political hurdles the ca has encountered.

Their decision to continue the boycott was a great setback to the process in at least two fundamental aspects. Firstly, it deprives the less politically savvy coalition members who chose to remain in the ca of strategic allies, who they will need when faced with the tyranny of the majority in the assembly.

Secondly, the counter discourse which they generate is taking place only outside of the ca committees, where it is unlikely to influence the final document on which a referendum will be called.

Nevertheless, most Tanzanians remain hopeful that at the end of the review process, as concluded, Tanzania will obtain a new constitution soon. the question is whether the contending parties in the review process will give way so that the process to a point of an enactment of the constituent assembly which is the subject of the referendum; is finalized amicably or harmoniously as soon as possible.

The question is, can the United Republic of Tanzania afford the luxury of disruptions in parliament when there is so much backlog of legislation that needs to be passed?

It is the people who vote in the parliamentarians, with the hope and assumption that they will do justice to the faith and trust, the common man has placed on them and utilise responsibly, the precious time in parliament, in debating and legislating on issues that matter to the nation.

Unfortunately, politics has become a profession more than a responsibility and all parties have been guilty in failing the people by not adhering to norms of parliamentary behaviour and disrupting parliamentary proceedings, in pursuit of their own political agendas.

it’s time for the people to reclaim their right and authority by demanding from all political parties that they realize their responsibilities to the people and do justice to the mandate given to them. It’s time the political parties took notice.