13 December 2012

Tanzania: How Special Seats End Up Being a Democratic Non-Starter


So, why is the objection so loud against special seats or viti maalum? Is it a legitimate concern over their relevance and effectiveness or do such sentiments harbour more sinister sexist motives that seek to keep the preserve and privileges of public office to a few players?

It is important to ask such questions considering that some realities which are evident defy the logic of some of the demands being put forth. I will elaborate on two of such demands here. I began this exploration on viti maalum by commenting about pervasive corruption in political office.

Most corruption scandals that have shaken the political establishment have involved legislators who were voted into office and not those who have been appointed and serve as legislators. If corruption is the issue that irks the common person why do we not hear calls scrape off the present electoral system? Furthermore, common citizens repeatedly complain of how rich and powerful candidates buy votes outrightly or through deception such as by providing gifts and other incentives.

It is rare that a political novice without a base to indulge in the excesses of power to the same degree as a politician with wide connection and influence and in most cases these are people who have occupied electoral seats for some time. The expectation is that objections over such established cultures would be equally strong, if not stronger.

Many of those seeking the purging of viti maalum also raise the question of favouritism which leads viti maalum legislators to be more concern about partisan interest than public interest. Again such a view point seems skewed especially in light of revelations about bad governance and poor judgment in the area of government contracts and investment policies generally yet the system that allows such practices to thrive and ministers who also happen to be elected officials are not blasted with such vehemence.

So what is at issue? Is it that women are given leadership opportunities on a silver platter or is it that they are ineffective? In fact, various speakers including a young man in Pemba believe that viti maalum is a system to reward concubines of the top leadership of political parties for sexual favours. Some cite names of powerful women who have occupied viti maalum as a birth right for a number of years and link them to big names in the respective party.

S u p p o s e d l y among those who have not survivedit is on account of their falling out of favour with their patrons. If this were fact, why should political prostitution be only a concern for female candidates and not those who are sponsoring the system in the first place? Moreover, sex is one form of prostitution but why is there no uproar over ministers and party stalwarts who run dirty errands and defend a system that does not serve the national or public interests, people who are boot lickers, opportunists, errand boys people who may not surrender their panties but willingly sell their souls?

Or why is the tokenism that has ensured that some high ranking political figures rule over their constituencies for life regardless of their effectiveness in representing the interests of their constituents? Many people in Mbeya for instance objected to legislators who never visited them or who did not have a presence in their constitu- ency yet served in parliament as a representative of a community that barely knows or sees them.

Is this not a form of tokenism? Is the support they enjoy from the presidents as well as from key government institutions not a form of tokenism? While there are women who feel strongly that viti maalum should be scrapped others are unhappy with the way this important institution is trivialised by being sexualized. One woman, for instance, who introduced herself as Thadea averred that "Wamama katika viti maalum hawauzi sura.

Wanatembea wilaya zote kumwaga sera zao ndipo wachaguliwe ndani ya vyama vyao" (women running under special seats don't sell their beauty to be elected. They campaign throughout the district putting forth an agenda that gets them elected). Gulzar Abu-Sabr, a diwani in Rujewa, understands why constituents are not endeared to viti maalum. She explains, "I first entered public office via viti maalum and experienced the weakness in the system first hand.

Unlike an elected councillor a viti maalum councillor has no voice in their constituency such as over budget allocation and other matters and hence they can't make decisions over key issues in their locality. This makes them appear ineffective compared to elected councillors".

Gulzar is now one of the few women elected into office and holds a prominent position in her council. How did she manage the impossible i.e. get elected into office? She reveals that, "I was only able to shine after the local councillor was called away on special assignment and I had to assume his duties giving other council members and employees as well as constituents an opportunity to see what I was capable of".

Thus it is evident that another aspect is t h e allocation of power in the representative structure that hinders viti maalum representatives from being more effective. Another dimension is explained by Christina Edgar from Ulanga who fell victim to dirty and divisive politics during the last Local Elections. Her tale leads to the crux of the problem since it demonstrates how at the outset setting the whole electoral process in motion can decide who can contest office.

At the stage of recommending names of potential contestants within the party during the vote count Christina originally came in fourth place entitling her to enter the second round. But when the names were sent to an apex body in the district the official results for the area placed her name in the seventh position kicking her out of contention. She observes that there are people within parties who are there to serve their own selfish ends and can temper with the result to decide who should hold office or not instead of heeding to popular opinion.

Christina feels that contrary to popular belief women do vote for other women, as she adamantly asserts, "Otherwise I would not have been elected if women did not support me. Political parties recognise this strength and have sought to capitalise on it to achieve their own selfish ends. By deliberately tampering with election results women become discouraged when the person they voted for is not the one who ends up in office ".

Surely, there is more to viti maalum than meets the eye and the constitution review process is an opportunity to review and assess how positive measures aimed to enhance the democratic process have feared lest we continue with systems and practices that disenfranchise certain political aspirants and their voters from realising their constitutional and democratic rights of voting in the candidate they want.

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