Dar es Salaam — Political party leaders and other pressure groups are planning to challenge proposed amendments to the Political Parties Act which they say will render Tanzania a near one party state.
The opposing groups say they will seek to offer views on the planned law review scheduled for debate in Parliament in February 2019, after which they will consider other options should it be approved in its current form.
A movement against the amendments is gathering pace as opposition parties fear that the government wanted to use the changes to entrench the ruling party, CCM, and continue its stifling of political freedoms.
The bill for the amendments drafted by the office of the registrar of political parties was forwarded to Parliament in October this year by chief secretary John Kijazi. The bill has already been tabled for the first reading in the National Assembly during the last meeting in November.
Opposition parties Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo officials are currently preparing their respective proposals as are other organisations such as the Legal and Human Rights Centre. Tanganyika Law Society President Fatuma Karume told The Citizen reporter that they will this week be reviewing the Mutungi bill before making public pronouncements. She earlier hinted on a twitter post Thursday of possible litigation to block the bill should it be bulldozed in Parliament.
"There are other parties waiting to challenge them in court even if it takes ten years," said Ms Karume in her post, referring to other similar litigations.
Concerns about the intentions of the government to introduce the amendments first begun to emerge last year when news of the planned bill first broke. However it has taken almost a year to move it to Parliament, with the registrar of political parties Judge (Rtr) Francis Mutungi defending the government's decision.
Yesterday, ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, Chadema's director for Publicity, Communications and Foreign Affairs John Mrema and CUF director for foreign affairs Ismail Jussa said they have been shocked by the contents of the bill and will be marshalling efforts guard against erosion of multi-party gains made since 1992.
They said the government has insisted on the amendments despite the obvious ill-intent demonstrated therein, arguing that the proposed law will deal a death knell to opposition parties in the country.
The LHRC programme officer for advocacy Raymond Kanegene said the organization was finalizing its analysis ready for submission to Parliament in January.
Mr Mutungi, however, told The Citizen yesterday in a telephone interview that there was nothing sinister in the proposed changes and said stakeholders will have time to give their inputs on December 21-22 in Zanzibar.
Mr Mutungi blamed the leaders of the political parties, claiming they were disseminating propaganda instead of educating the public on the bill.
"They complain that the bill bans political parties from functioning as pressure groups while they know for sure that the two are very different things," said Mutungi. He advised those opposed to the proposals to use official channels to air their views.
"If they truly have serious concerns they will present them at the consultative meeting planned for Zanzibar," said Mr Mutungi.
Some of the provisions of the bill seen as offending is one that seeks to bar the parties from operating as pressure groups and also give the registrar sweeping powers including those of policing and micro-managing their internal affairs.
The new law also proposes jail terms and hefty fines for breach of the law, something that is not in the current bill which the government say has been difficult to implement due to gaps it now wanted fixed.
Section 6A (6) of the bill, for example, bans a political party from functioning as "a pressure or activist group." The bill defines a pressure group or activist group as "a group of people that influences public opinion or government action in the interest of a particular cause."
Section 5A of the bill requires anyone wishing to conduct civic education or any kind of capacity building training to a political party to inform the political registrar before doing so. The registrar will have the last say whether to approve or block the training.
Organisations like the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) from the US, or Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) and Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) from Germany have been heavily involved in capacity building for political parties locally.
Section 5B gives powers to the registrar to request any information from a political party, a leader or a member. Political parties' leaders think the purpose of the provision is for the state to be able to have full control of parties and many worry that this would amount to spying against them.
ACT-Wazalendo has described the bill as "both overt and covert threat to the country's nascent democracy." The party says is determined to engage other parties to form a broad coalition to ensure that the bill doesn't pass as it is.
The party leader Zitto Kabwe said in a Twitter post yesterday that the bill reminds him of the 20th century's Enabling Act enacted by Adolph Hitler during Nazi Germany. Titled "law to remedy the distress of people and Reich" the Act gave Hitler plenary powers and followed on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree which had abolished most civil liberties.
The United Democratic Party (UDP) acting secretary general, Mr Andrew Bomani, commended the insertion within the bill that allows the formation of coalition of political parties saying that is a positive stride for the parties can now join forces for the purpose of achieving a common goal.
Another positive aspect is the fact that the bills seeks to give voice to those living with disabilities to have a say in the political parties while the bill also introduces a layer of accountability to political parties which receive fund from the government, with the Controller and Auditor-General given powers to demand accountability from the parties.
But Mr Bomani feels most of the bill's provisions are repressive and not geared towards nurturing the country's nascent democracy.
"The government wants to make sure that all political parties become lukewarm as it seeks to get rid of any challenge," said Mr Bomani. "We should never allow ourselves to lose our democracy for when that happens the only thing to be sure of is that we would be led by an individual dictator or the military."
CUF's Jussa said that people shouldn't bother to ask what could have been the motivations behind the government's decision to table the bill to the parliament.
"It's a continuation of the process to undermine democracy in the country since President John Magufuli took office," said Mr Jussa, saying the government is determined to coerce all political parties, willy-nilly, into puppets so that they can no longer be able to carry out their own activities.
"How is it possible to give party registrar the mandate to monitor intra-party elections? This very mechanism will be used by the ruling party to choose who should be its opponents," said Mr Jussa.