16 May 2017

Tanzania Civil Society Demands Law Reform

Tanzania's civil society is shifting its focus from the anticipated constitutional review to push for electoral reforms to ensure that the next General Election in 2020 is free and fair.

Constitution review is not included in the proposed Ministry of Constitutional Affairs 2017/2018 budget estimates, which has raised concern that the constitution review was never a priority for the current government.

The Tanzania Constitution Forum, an umbrella organisation bringing together 22 civil society organisations advocating for constitutional reforms, believes that the constitutional review process is unattainable. They suspect that the government would sooner prepare for the local government elections due in 2019, a full year before the 2020 General Election.

Hebron Mwakagenda, the TCF executive director, told The EastAfrican that their members would like the government to deliver minimum reforms on the current constitution to enable a free and fair 2020 election.

The forum wants the government to allow independent candidates in future elections at all electoral levels; the outcome of the elections to be openly challenged in courts of law; that commissioners of the electoral commission not be appointed by the president who is himself a candidate in the election; and that a coalition of political parties can form government.

The forum's decision to focus on the minimum reforms does not mean that they are asking the government to completely abandon the constitution review process but rather wanted the government to consider it as a long-term work-in-progress.

The forum has already met with the House Committee for Parliamentary Affairs to discuss the minimum constitutional amendments. Their next focus was to meet all the MPs to enlighten them on the importance of the matter.

"We are also seeking audience with the President of the United Republic to discuss these matters, even as he continues making plans for writing of a new constitution," Mr Mwakagenda said.

The Tanzania Centre for Democracy, an umbrella organisation for leading political parties, had pushed for the same matter in 2013, meeting with then president Jakaya Kikwete who promised that he would prioritise the issue of minimum reforms.

They had also asked president Kikwete to suspend Constituent Assembly sessions so they could focus on delivering the minimum reforms. However, the comprehensive constitution review process was seen as key to president Kikwete's legacy at the time and ignored the opposition's plea.

Contacted for comment, retired judge Joseph Warioba, who chaired the Constitutional Review Commission, said that he would not comment on the civil society new direction since his focus was still on the constitutional review.

Justice Warioba was a key member of the constitution review process and has met with President John Magufuli several times since the president was sworn in on October 2015. It is, however, not clear whether the constitutional issue was discussed.

The constitution review process stagnated in 2015 after the proposed constitution was altered by the Constitutional Assembly the majority of whom were from the ruling party. This development sparked criticism from the opposition who walked out in protest and formed themselves into Coalition for a People's Constitution, which has lately become a visible and vocal political force.


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