Political Parties Bill petition fails with costs

15Jan 2019
The Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Political Parties Bill petition fails with costs

THE High Court in Dar es Salaam yesterday rejected a petition by some opposition leaders who sought to halt parliamentary debate on the draft legislation they argue would criminalize political activities in the country.

 

In his ruling, Judge Benhaji Masoud threw out case number 31 of 2018 on a technicality after going through submissions by the applicants and the respondents, with all costs to be paid by the litigants.

 

Under the proposed legal changes, individuals conducting civic education, for example giving out information on voter registration, must seek permission from the government-appointed Registrar of Political Parties or face a fine and up to a year in jail.

 

The opposition in general and the litigants in particular cried that the registrar would also have sweeping powers to de-register parties.

 

Also, political parties would be forbidden from functioning as "pressure or activist groups."

 

The case was filed opposition ACT-Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe together with the Civic United Front (CUF) Deputy Secretary General (Mainland) Joram Bashange and the party’s Director of Communications Salum Bimani.

 

The litigants argued that the proposed changes would expand grounds on which authorities can suspend political parties and jail their members “hence cement one-party rule in Tanzania.”

 

They were supported by political activists and critics who maintained that the changes would sharply curb freedoms in the country and prevent an effective challenge to President John Magufuli and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in next year's general election and this year's local government elections.

 

But the court rejected the opposition's plea on a technicality. "This petition was not properly filed. It is therefore struck out with costs," said Judge Masoud.

 

Rendering judgment, Judge Masoud said he agreed with two arguments of the state out of 10 tendered in the court, including those of Zitto and his associates, mixing two petitions in one application.

The judge said the circumstances of this application and petitions tendered were not suitable to be joined together in one application, thus he agrees with the state that the petitions need to be different.

He said in consideration of circumstances of arguments for preliminary objections by the state that were given in court, objection number three and a portion of the fourth objection have plausible arguments thus the application was not brought to court in the required framework.

The opposition leaders said if debate proceeds later this month, the amendments are likely to be rubber-stamped by a legislature dominated by the ruling party.

 

Reacting to the ruling on twitter, Kabwe, one of three opposition leaders who filed the lawsuit, said he would keep fighting even if the Bill sails through parliament.

 

"If the bill is eventually passed into law, we will oppose it again in courts of law," he said.

 

The amendments were filed in November and are expected to come up for debate after lawmakers return from recess on January 29.

 

Last week, opposition leaders said in a joint press conference in Dar es Salaam that if passed, the new law would bring an end to day-to-day political activities and of democracy by extension.

 

The leaders of nine opposition parties said they opposed the Bill because it would kill democracy and cause chaos if passed.

 

The parties – Chadema, ACT-Wazalendo, CUF, UPDP, DP, CCK, Chaumma, ADC and NCCR-Mageuzi – also signed a declaration condemning the Bill, which was tabled in Parliament for a first reading on November 16.