Tanzania: Why the Opposition's Decision to Pull Out of Nov 24 Local Government Elections Matters

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe, second left, leads other members of the party’s Central Committee in singing a solidarity song during a news conference in Dodoma. Others are, from left, Prof Abdallah Safari (vice chairman), Dr Vincent Mashinji (secretary-general), Mr John Mnyika (deputy secretary-general, Mainland) and Mr Salum Mwalimu (deputy secretary-general, Zanzibar).

Dar es Salaam — Followers of Tanzania's politics expressed no surprise yesterday at the decision by Chadema to withdraw from civic elections scheduled for November 24, calling it an automatic reaction to the what they termed as ongoing muzzling of competitive politics in the country.

In their reactions following the main opposition party's dramatic U-turn to protest the manner in which the government handled the nominations of candidates for the civic elections, analysts and political pundits unanimously said the move was largely expected. But they also warned that it did not portend well with the country's nascent democracy.

The decision by Chadema came on the heels of reports of massive locking out of opposition candidates across the country in favour of the ruling party, CCM, candidates who would pass "unopposed."

"But withdrawing will have minimal, if any, impact on how these elections will be conducted telling from the experience of past by-elections. I think it is a bad strategy for the Chadema to boycott the elections. But I cannot blame them, they are the shoe-wearer and they know where it pinches," said Dr Paul Luisulie, a political scientist from the University of Dodoma.

Asked to comment over Chadema's decision, CCM's secretary of political and international affairs, Mr Ngemela Lubinga said: "Is it the leaders who have boycotted the elections or the party's members? Have the leaders sought the opinions of their members? Because I think by boycotting the elections, the party is denying its members their basic constitutional rights."

Chadema chairperson Freeman Mbowe had assured the country three weeks ago that the party would not boycott the civic elections because of the challenges associated with the process.

"We have to face the challenges. And even though CCM lies to itself that it will rig this elections, the country does not have the personnel to police every village," he said.

However, Mbowe noted that the party would also react differently depending on the prevailing situation.

Dr Luisulie says that when the main opposition political party like Chadema boycotts elections, it not only deprives that election of its legitimacy but also lays a foundation for the unaccountable leadership. "There will be a lack of push on the 'leaders' in serving their respective constituents. Because no one elected them, the leaders will be exercising no leadership at all." Dr Aikande Kwayu, an honorary research fellow at the Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin Madison, thinks that the question of whether or not Chadema's withdrawal in the civic elections is a no-brainer.

"The boycott is a good move and it matters a lot. It is a strong political statement expressing the disillusionment with how elections are organised," she said in a telephone interview with The Citizen. Dr Kwayu thinks that the argument that the withdrawal will deny people their basic rights to vote and be voted on is misplaced, saying it does not make any sense to vote in elections which are not free and fair and where one is not sure if her vote will make a difference.

But like Dr Luisulie, Kwayu is also worried by the trend: "Looking at how the events have unfolded in these past few days, I get some feeling that there might even be no elections in 2020," she points out, adding that the warning is like the writing on the wall that the country was not heading in the right direction over the polls.

Dr Kwayu says that the unfolding events show how the ruling CCM is afraid of political competition, a phenomenon she says is automatic when the State persecutes opposition parties.

"Everywhere in the world, experience shows that the more the political party is being persecuted the more institutionalised it becomes. Far from destroying it, repression against a political party ends up strengthening it. And that's what happening in Tanzania today."

A political analyst from Ruaha University College, Prof Gaudence Mpangala, said CCM has shown a determination that it is not ready to participate in an open, competitive election, leaving no option for the opposition.

"The people take notice of all what's happening and it is quite right to expect that the turnout on the Election Day will be very low," said the don.

"People feel betrayed, and this did not come fortuitously. It is a premeditated plan to make them feel so and hate the electoral system."

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