14 February 2018

Tanzania: Electoral Commission Appeals for Peace During By-Elections

IN the recent past there have been a series of complaints raised by leaders of opposition parties towards the National Electoral Commission (NEC) over irregularities, especially in the ongoing byelections in some constituencies.

Leaders of opposition parties have been raising alarm over unlawful acts, going to the extent of boycotting some elections, blaming NEC for not taking action. In a nutshell, the opposition leaders wanted the electoral body to convene a stakeholders meeting to discuss and reach consensus on the matters in question.

Unfortunately what the opposition wing was seeking would not be possible given the fact that the demand was not legally binding. In a meeting with the leaders of political parties, NEC Chairman Judge Semistocles Kaijage said: "Our laws and regulations have no vacuum at all in any misconduct related to breaching of legal procedures...that denies the rights of any political party or an individual of his or her right to vote or be voted.

" Justice Kaijage said there are legal entities entrusted with the verdict on issues related to violation of ethics in elections, adding, for example that if an agent of a candidate is forced out of a polling station it is a violation and measures to deal with it are well stipulated in the existing laws.

"If complaints presented to a responsible authority over misconducts in elections are proved genuine, the election in that area will be null and void. But here we have a question to ask ourselves over whether the situation occurred and which legal measures were taken as per the laws in a bid to find solution," he said.

The Chairman was, however, dismayed by the fact that political parties that felt offended did not follow procedures but rather chose to write to the electoral commission complaining over foul play well knowing that the commission doesn't have power to preside over such matters.

"The electoral commission meetings cannot give legal remedy to an election which has been tampered with, if, for example, an election has been marred by misconducts it needs to be nullified, but NEC doesn't have powers to annul an election," he said. He called on political parties not to hesitate in abiding with the existing laws of the land as well as the election ethics agreed upon and signed by all political parties, adding that it was disappointing to see political parties hesitating to abide with the ethics that they signed and vowed to observe during elections.

"The good thing about ethics is that decision makers, magistrates and judges who preside over unethical practices during elections are political party leaders themselves, they are also entrusted with powers of imposing penalties, but unfortunately they are shunning their responsibilities....," he said. Judge Kaijage urged Returning Officers and other officials at polling stations to ensure that all the legal procedures are adhered to during the process of voting including the filling and signing of required forms.

The adherence to procedures, according to him, would help in countering some of the claims such as those suggesting that polling stations were raided and the counting of votes being tampered with. "Before the voting starts and before the polling stations are closed, there are special forms to be filled, claims, if any, should be indicated therein, and if there are queries, norms and regulations requires that the Returning Office give explanations on the matters raised, if the explanations are not clear, it provides a good basis of filing a case in the responsible authorities," he said.

Responding to the claims of actual results not being announced, Judge Kaijage said according to Section 81 of the National Elections Act (Cap 343) and Section 82 of the Local Authorities Elections Act (Cap 292) the winner is the one who scoops majority votes. "There are claims that in some areas winners are deprived of their win, that losers are instead announced as winners, if this claims could be true then it is very wrong.

Under Section 108 of the National Elections Act (Cap 343) and Section 107 of the Local Authorities Elections Act (Cap 292) all the genuine complaints of foul play in announcing a winner should be reported to the responsible authorities indicated in the law and if proved, results will be annulled," he said.

Judge Kaijage warned that any move to seek solution to such matters out of the laid down procedures will not provide any solution. "If there is any blame that should be directed towards the electoral body should be that of failing to observe laws, rules and regulations that govern elections. I would like to ensure political party leaders that NEC is at all the times keen in ensuring that all the legal procedures are adhered to," he said.

The Chairman further noted that the commission has been playing its advisory role to political parties when needed and it has been issuing warnings where is due without necessarily going public. NEC Director of Elections Kailima Ramadhan noted that in case there is chaos during voting, section 67(1) of the National Elections Act (Cap 343) and Section 68 (1) of the Local Authorities Elections Act (Cap 292) allows a returning officer to postpone the voting until next day.

He pointed out that Regulation 59 of 2015's Presidential and Parliamentary Elections and Regulation 53 of Local Government (Councillors) Elections of 215 directs political party's agency in the polling station to fill Form Number 16 to show satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the voting procedures. Kailima said after elections of members of parliament, Sections 108, 110 and 115 of the National Elections Act (Cap 343) directs that complains be submitted in High Court within 30 days from the day of result announcement.

On the part of councillors' elections, he said that Section 107, 109 and 114 of the Local Authorities Elections Act (Cap 292) directs that complaints be submitted in the Resident Magistrate Court within 30 days from the day of results announcement.

"The National Electoral Commission expects that political parties will do what is required of them as well as mobilising their members to take part in the election of Members of Parliament and Councillors they want in the ongoing by-elections," he said.

Kailima also urged political party leaders to lead and guide their supporters to conduct peaceful campaigns and participate peacefully in voting.

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