23 March 2019

Tanzania: Clock Ticks for Defiant Opposition

Dar es Salaam — Opposition parties and pressure groups seeking to challenge the amendment of the Political Parties Act have only 20 days to file a case at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).

After President John Magufuli signed the Bill for the amendment of the Act on February 13 this year, the opposition and other political stakeholders vowed to pursue other options in their relentless efforts to repeal the contentious piece of legislation.

Since its passage in Parliament last year, the Bill ignited strong debate among political stakeholders, who view it as an attempt at stifling the opposition and tightening the ruling party CCM's stranglehold on national politics.

With backing from other parties, the main opposition Chadema has already announced plans to challenge the Act at the EACJ.

Mr John Mrema, the party's director of Protocol, Communications and Foreign Affairs, said they were holding meetings with 10 other parties and political stakeholders before filing the case.

"We will start filing the case in local courts. By next week, we will be in a better position to file the case at the EACJ," Mr Mrema said over the telephone yesterday.

Ms Anna Nabata, the EACJ spokesperson, told MCL Digital over the telephone that a case to oppose the amendment of an Act should be filed within two months from the date it is signed into law.

"An applicant can file a case directly at the EACJ without consulting the domestic courts," she said.

Mr Jebra Kambole, an advocate, explained that such a case normally takes up to two years to be heard and for a ruling to be made.

"It is important to appeal to the EACJ because Tanzania has ratified an agreement to embrace democracy. Therefore, opposing the amendment of the Act is within the legal framework," said Mr Kambole.

He added: "At present, EACJ is overwhelmed with cases, and its judges serve the court for only three periods per year; therefore, it might take at least two years for the case to be heard."

At home, Mr Kambole said it might take at least one year for such a case to be heard and the ruling to be issued.

Zanzibar-based advocate Awadhi Said referred to section 30(5) of the Constitution, which explains that if the High Court is satisfied that a certain Act is against the Constitution, it can take further legal action to repeal it.

"The greatest shortcoming of the Act is giving the Registrar of Political Parties the powers to interfere with internal matters of parties," said Mr Said.

Another advocate, Dr Onesmo Kyauke, said the Registrar could also be sued through judicial reviews. "Even if the law indicates that the Registrar can't be sued, there is still a possibility to sue both Registrar and the Electoral Commission through judicial reviews... " said Mr Said.

He also argued that there are some sections in the Act that are against the Constitution.

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