Tanzania: Electoral Processes Questioned

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Judge's gavel.

Tanzania's democratic credentials are in the spotlight as civil society organisations, lawyers and politicians head to the courts and parliament to challenge electoral laws.

Last week, Bob Wangwe filed a petition at the high court in Dar es Salaam with the support of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and the main opposition party Chadema. Lawyer Fatma Karume has been assigned by TLS to study the constitutionality of the issues raised.

If successful, the petition will, among other things, end the role of district executive directors (DEDs), who are presidential appointees, as returning officers during elections.

Mr Wangwe has already filed a case challenging the National Electoral Commission Act.

Another case has been filed by Francis Garatwa, Baraka Mwango and Allan Bujo challenging the Police Force Act and Political Parties Act. In the petition, Mr Garatwa said the police's power to ban political parties rallies is unconstitutional.

Tanzania reinstated multiparty democracy in 1992. The ruling party has won the past five elections, leaving the opposition claiming unfair play.

The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition and TLS have offered legal services free of charge.

This past week Hussein Bashe, the CCM member of parliament for Nzega, said he has written to the clerk of the National Assembly seeking to table a private motion for the formation of a committee to investigate incidents that are threatening the country's peace, unity and solidarity.

It would be the first time since President John Magufuli took office in 2015 that a ruling party legislator would table a motion challenging the government's democratic record. With the majority CCM MPS, the motion is unlikely to sail through.

The electoral process under the National Elections Act, Cap 343 gives the DEDs authority to oversee elections. Civil society says the returning officers favour their appointing authority during elections.

On Wednesday, the LHRC yet again accused the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of failing to ensure free and fair by-elections in Kinondoni and Siha constituencies on February 17.

The NEC had rubbished their earlier claims of foul play by the centre's acting director Paul Mikongoti, who, on February 21, banned local television station ITV from airing a story about a stolen ballot box and that some organisations had been denied permits to become observers.

"Article 74 (14) of the Constitution forbids any person involved with any political party from being involved in overseeing the election processes, but what is happening in this country is that some presidential appointees, who occupy public offices such as DEDs, are party cadres," said Ms Karume.

Mr Wangwe said some DEDs had vied for political posts and lost the polls. "Some DEDs are members of the ruling political party, and were contesting for posts," he said.

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