Tundu Lissu, one of the fiercest opponents of President John Magufuli’s government, is preparing to return home after a prolonged medical sojourn in Europe. Upon his return, Mr Lissu is expected to launch a campaign to challenge President Magufuli’s re-election next year. But analysts believe that the political environment he is coming back to is likely to knock the wind out of his sails.
Mr Lissu, the opposition chief whip in parliament, whose absence occasioned by what he calls an assassination attempt in September 2017, has been treated in Kenya and Belgium and is now well on the road to full recovery.
He is now embarking on what he calls a world tour “to tell the world what happened” to him as he awaits word from his doctors about when he will be considered fit enough to fly back home.
In the meantime, he has wasted no time in renewing his spirited campaign against the Magufuli administration through international media from his Belgian base.
In an interview last week on the BBC’s Hard Talk programme in London, Mr Lissu criticised President Magufuli’s human-rights record, going as far as saying the only good thing
Magufuli has done is “show Tanzanians the value of human rights and freedom” by denying them access. Despite pointed prompting by interviewer Stephen Sackur, he skirted around President Magufuli’s impressive anti-corruption campaign, improved tax collection, or mega infrastructure projects.
Now, Mr Lissu says he is up for more interviews with stations like Al Jazeera and CNN in the near future.
But, while his critics accuse him of painting a glim picture of his country, his supporters are marketing him as the man with the credentials to challenge President Magufuli in next year’s polls.
Mr Lissu has hinted that if Chadema picks him as its presidential candidate, he will be prepared to slug it out with the CCM man. He says that should he emerge victorious at the ballot, he would respect rule of law, freedoms and human rights.
Meanwhile, back home, the Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai has threatened to declare Mr Lissu’s Singida East constituency seat vacant due to “absenteeism.”
While Mr Lissu has been undergoing treatment in Kenya and Belgium since that September 2017 shooting in Dodoma, Mr Ndugai says the MP never formally notified him of his absence and therefore has not been performing his duties as an MP. The House sits next week to debate whether or not to strip Mr Lissu of his membership on “absenteeism” grounds.
President Magufuli last week reiterated his three-year ban on political rallies in the country, saying no member of parliament will be allowed to conduct such rallies outside his legislative orbit.
This means that even if he were to come home to start campaigning for the presidency, Mr Lissu would be confined to his rural constituency in Singida, central Tanzania, about 700km from Dar es Salaam.
He may therefore have to rely heavily on social media to drive his messages, but even in this space, there is the controversial cybercrime and statistics legislations right in his way.
The Cybercrime Act of 2015 states that, “Any person who publishes information, data or facts presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system where such information, data or fact is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate commits an offence, and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not less than three million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not less than six months or to both”.
Article 37 (2) of the Statistics Act (2015) imposes fines of up to Tsh2,000,000 ($878) or imprisonment of not less than six months on anyone who publishes or is found in possession of statistical information that the law deems as not authorized for publication or dissemination.
Therefore, political analysts see a rocky political path ahead for Mr Lissu, informed by harsh laws and directives from President Magufuli.
“Mr Lissu seems to be an ace for the opposition in the 2020 election and if the Ukawa coalition is revived — which is most likely — opposition parties could field him as a single candidate in the hope that they will at least be able to win more legislative seats on his account,” a CCM insider who requested anonymity told The EastAfrican.
But at the same time, there is also the growing possibility of a tug-of-war between Mr Lissu and former prime minister Edward Lowassa, who lost to President Magufuli in 2015, to secure the party’s ticket.
Mr Lowassa will be banking on his horde of supporters who are dissatisfied with Magufuli’s administration so far.
The cards that whoever takes on Dr Magufuli for the presidency next year will play may well include what is wiedely perceived as a dark human-rights record characterised by squeezed democratic space and lesser individual security, plus a hardline economic stance that pays little attention to private sector growth.