Dar es Salaam — Zanzibar's former First Vice President, Seif Shariff Hamad, wants President John Magufuli to hold a structured dialogue with the opposition over the demand for a free and fair General Election - and revival of the stalled constitutional review process.
Mr Hamad said President Magufuli had the momentum and held the lever for such a dialogue to ensure a conducive environment for a peaceful election and unity of the nation.
"The important thing is for one to have the will to hold such a dialogue. Remember in Zanzibar when we saw the need for national reconciliation, we didn't have enough time but we had the will," said Mr Hamad, referring to Civic United Front (CUF) formation of a unity government with CCM in 2010.
He was speaking yesterday during an exclusive interview with Mwananchi Communications Limited, a day after he held closed-door talks with President Magufuli at the State House in Dar es Salaam. The interview was aired live on MCL Digital platforms through which members of the public also asked questions.
Mr Hamad is currently the chief advisor of ACT-Wazalendo, a party he and most CUF followers defected to following a leadership wrangle with Prof Ibrahim Lipumba who is the latter's national chairman.
The long serving politician and former cabinet minister was clarifying in which capacity he met the president, and whether the meeting, alongside that of Prof Lipumba and James Mbatia of NCCR-Mageuzi should be viewed as the ice breaker in the search for a national dialogue among the political class.
Mr Hamad explained, however, that he had met the President in his own personal capacity and after a long attempt to meet him over the political situation in Zanzibar. He said he was called and told that the President was ready to meet him. "I do not know what he told the other leaders and what their agenda was," he said, adding that he would hold his horses over whether the public should view the State House meetings as optimistic.
There has been a chorus of demands from a cross section of political, religious and civic society leaders for the convening of a national forum over democracy and governance concerns as the country heads to a General Election in October. The main opposition party, Chadema, which has signaled political reconciliation petitioned President Magufuli for a similar forum in a public letter recently.
President Magufuli and some key figures in government have promised a free and fair election amid calls for the same by development partners while the opposition feel actions by some state actors such as the police do not reflect commitment to such promises. Opposition parties have been restricted from holding rallies and several MPs have run into trouble with the police over constant arrests and denial of permits to hold meetings while their counterparts in CCM are undeterred.
The opposition boycotted last November's' civic elections after over 90 percent of their candidates were disqualified on technical grounds. The opposition's main cry has been for establishment of a fully independent electoral commission.
Yesterday, Mr Hamad hinted that he hinted to the President about the Zanzibar political situation in the context of the 2020 elections. He said the president reaffirmed that the elections will be free and fair. "But I can't assure Tanzania by 100 per cent that this year's General Election will be free and fair because it isn't my call to make," said Mr Hamad, noting that several reforms would have to be taken to assure that. "We can start by reforming the electoral body using proposals made by the Warioba Constitutional Review Commission," said Mr Hamad.
Regardless, Mr Hamad who revealed that he will run for Zanzibar presidency for a sixth time in the October election, said he was certain to win big against CCM. "And this time around we will not let anyone to "rob us of our victory" unlike in previous elections. We have a clear plan to secure the votes".
Responding to a question from a social media user, who suggested that he should consider quitting politics and act as an advisor to the crop of young leaders, Mr Hamad said he only vied when sure that his candidacy had the support of the majority Zanzibaris. "Politics is like my second wife... .. I am already under pressure from the people to stand again in October," he said.
He has recently hinted that members of the ruling party were scheming on how to clip his influence among the voters or block him from standing as a candidate. A CCM member of the House of Representatives has planned to table a private motion to block candidates who have joined new parties not to stand for office until they were three years old in their new parties.
Coalition and defections
Mr Hamad said he believed a coalition among all opposition parties was critical to win against CCM. He said they have learnt a lesson from the 2015 elections. "In some constituencies, we (the opposition), lost by a very slim margin because our votes were split. I believe if we will field single candidates who have many supporters, we stand a big chance of defeating CCM."
According to him, although nothing concrete has been done so far, ACT-Wazalendo has started to sound out other political parties with regard to forming a coalition ahead of the elections. In 2015 the opposition formed a coalition known as Ukawa from which its presidential flag bearers were Mr Edward Lowassa and Mr Hamad, for United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar respectively. The coalition helped the opposition to increase the number of seats in the Parliament while CUF gained many seats in the house of the representative before the results were nullified. Mr Hamad insisted they won the Zanzibar vote.
Yesterday Mr Hamad said even though the likes of Lowassa have since returned to CCM, he believed many other defections from opposition parties were engineered to suit certain selfish interests. "I believe there are other factor behind these defections." He said it was ironical that those who were given a mandate by the people would abandon them midterm.
He insisted that ACT-Wazalendo welcomes anyone, who wants to defect to the party. He was responding to a question whether ACT-Wazalendo would be ready to receive Mr Bernard Membe, the former foreign affairs minister who was last week expelled from CCM.
"We welcome anyone who would want to join us but they should not come with conditionalities," he said.