Political firebrand Zitto Kabwe yesterday said he had pulled out of the race for the Chadema chairmanship to avert a split in the opposition party.
Mr Kabwe, who is also the party's deputy secretary-general and Kigoma North MP, told The Citizen that Chadema elders had convinced him to withdraw his candidacy and save the party from a potentially catastrophic split.
Mr Kabwe's withdrawal came a few days after his surprise announcement that he would challenge Mr Freeman Mbowe for the chairmanship in the party's forthcoming elections.
He said the elders were of the view that both he and Mr Mbowe were powerful figures in Chadema, and their going head-to-head could have a polarising effect.
"I don't want anything bad to happen to the party I love Averting a split is the only reason behind my decision to withdraw my candidacy."
Mr Kabwe, 32, strongly refuted reports that his family had pressured him into dropping out of the race.
"My family has not intervened in this. It's the elders who advised me against challenging Mr Mbowe for the chairmanship. I've done this to avoid splitting the party," he reiterated.
Chadema insiders had earlier told The Citizen that Mr Kabwe pulled out after a lengthy meeting with close relatives, who advised him to "wait until the time is right".
Reports that Mr Kabwe was seeking to unseat Mr Mbowe first surfaced while the youthful parliamentarian was in Germany last week.
He later confirmed that he would challenge Mr Mbowe, and that he had filled in candidacy forms at the airport before flying out to Germany.
Mr Kabwe, who is an economist by training, said last week that there was an urgent need to forge unity within the party ahead of next year's General Election.
The 2010 elections, he added, would be a watershed moment that would lead to a major political decision.
"My vision and reading of the situation is that we might this time be forced as a country to have a Prime Minister from outside the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi. We (Chadema) cannot afford to approach that possible scenario divided,"he noted.
It was now time, he added, for new blood to take over the reins of leadership from where Mr Mbowe and his colleagues had reached "because there is a need to strengthen the party from within more than ever before."
He added:"Mr Mbowe is a leader whom I respect very much because he loves our party very much, but we need to forge ahead with a new vision of strengthening our unity because Chadema has already proven that it is capable of taking over the country's leadership."
However, Mr Mbowe, 48, welcomed Mr Kabwe's move as healthy competition within the opposition party.
Mr Mbowe said Mr Kabwe was free to challenge him for the party's chairmanship, saying it was not only an indication of political maturity, but also of how democratic Chadema was.
He said the party constitution allowed any eligible member to vie for any post and Mr Kabwe would only be exercising his democratic right by doing so.
Mr Kabwe's withdrawal leaves Mr Mbowe as the sole candidate so far for the top post.
Others who have declared their candidacies ahead of the elections include University of Dar es Salaam lecturer Prof Mweiga Baregu and Ms Maulida Anna Komu, who are both eyeing the deputy national chairman's post. Ms Komu was Mr Mbowe's running mate in the 2005 presidential election.
Also seeking the No 2 post is Mpanda Central MP Said Amour Arfi.
Chadema secretary-general Willibrod Slaa said there was nobody in the party who was barred from seeking any post as long as he or she had the required qualifications.
On why he had not declared his candidacy for any post, Dr Slaa said: "I'm the returning officer, according to the constitution. I'm thus not allowed to vie for any post. Also, the secretary-general is appointed by the chairman and approved by the central committee."
Mr Mbowe took over the party leadership from Mr Bob Makani. This was after he was elected Hai MP in 2000. He won 64.5 per cent of the vote, which was the highest in the constituencies taken by opposition candidates.
In 2005, Mr Mbowe was nominated as Chadema's presidential candidate. It was the first time since the party was founded that it had nominated a presidential candidate.
He came third out of 10 candidates in the December 14, 2005 presidential election, winning 5.88 per cent of the vote.
Mr Mbowe is al so a businessman, owning Club Bilicanas, one of the best nightclubs in Dar es Salaam. He is also the owner of Freemedia Limited, the publisher of Tanzania Daima, a national daily newspaper, as well as Protea Hotel Machame, in his native town of Machame, in Kilimanjaro Region.
He is married to Dr Lillian Mtei, daughter of Mr Edwin Mtei, the first Governor of the Bank of Tanzania and the Chadema founding chairman.
Mr Kabwe's political star has been rising since 2005, when he became the youngest elected MP, beating CCM's candidate in the Kigoma North constituency.
His bold contributions in Parliament have earned him recognition as he has always kept ministers on their toes. His gained national fame when he was suspended from Parliament for six months following his revelation that a Cabinet minister had signed the Buzwagi gold mining contract in a hotel room in Europe.
He returned to the House to applause from members on both sides of the political divide at the end of his suspension.
Mr Kabwe also heads the Parastatals Organisations Accounts Committee (POAC).