Dar es Salaam — Many in the opposition camp think that their main chances of winning in the coming General Election depend on how voters will make decisions by weighing the available evidence on how bad the government has fared in the economy and human rights issues. But political pundits and researchers people's voting behaviour say that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Perhaps there is no firm proponent of this rationality argument than ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe. He has said repeatedly that these two agenda - bad economy as well as deterioration of democracy and human rights - are two chief slogans that will enable the opposition to deal the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) a mighty blow.
"No area that directly touches the lives of the people that the government has not wrought havoc on. There are traders crying every day," Mr Kabwe told MCL in an interview recently. "We have strong arguments based on the status of the economy and issues pertaining to justice and democracy."
But if there is any piece of advice that Drew Westen, a professor of psychology and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, would give to Mr Kabwe, it would definitely to ask the Kigoma Urban MP (ACT-Wazalendo) to rethink and strategically plan ahead.
Westen argues in the book that people rely upon emotion to drive the decision-making process and reach conclusions that make them feel good. Reason and rationality, therefore, play a very limited role in political decisions.
"The dispassionate mind of the 18th-century philosophers," Westen writes, "allows us to predict somewhere between 0.5 and 3 per cent of the most important political decisions people will make over the course of their lives." As a solution, Westen recommends the recognition of the role of emotion in voters' decisions.
What this implies is that any strategy for winning elections will have to consider a range of approaches that would help the opposition take on the incumbent CCM successfully. For it is a well-known fact that the opposition has been through tough times since the fifth-phase administration came into office with the government, using both legal and extra-legal means, taking some measures to position the ruling party for winning the upcoming elections.
From the ban of political activities to the enactment of the Political Parties (Ammendments) Act all indications point to the more gloomier reality that will need more than rationality to deal with. This, of course, includes the step taken by the leaders of the opposition parties to file a petition in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), seeking the halt of implementation of the Political Parties Act.
"The opposition is hugely disadvantaged in the coming elections," says one analyst based in Dar es Salaam who wishes to remain anonymous. He says that the opposition has been constantly harassed since 2015 something which has made their job even harder, adds the man who works in a local think tank advocating for good governance. "There is no sign that the government or the police will give opposition parties genuine space to mobilise supporters and campaign effectively."
Mr Juma Duni Haji from the ACT-Wazalendo thinks that the opposition has a good chance of winning the elections regardless of the NEC independence or not. Still, he says that their winning will depend on the adherence of the Constitution and the rule of laws.
"We've got the people. Those victims of the administration's actions and blunders." Reluctant to share his party's strategies for the realisation of this plan, Mr Duni says that his party's latest national leadership restructuring is part of a larger strategizing process.
The main opposition Chadema in September last year unveiled its reworked policy as the party said that it seeks to bring itself closer to the people and rebuilding itself. Party officials also say they have embarked on a door-to-door campaign aimed at verifying its members and update its register.
This is what Mr Deus Valentine, an independent political analyst based in Dar es Salaam calls "finding a way around the current constraints" which is key to positioning themselves as real contenders in the upcoming elections.
"Organisation is key to guaranteeing an electoral win. Apart from mobilizing voters, the opposition would need to have reached and convinced enough of them to win," says Mr Valentine who professionally is a lawyer. "The question is: do they have the networks and resources to reach as many voters as possible?"
Prospects for a unified opposition
One thing that the leaders in opposition and analysts alike agree is that the opposition's chances as a serious contender in the upcoming elections will be as elusive as ever unless the they do away with their differences and come together as one. Already, fortunately, there are signs that this is the direction that the leaders in the camp are heading to.
Among the several significant moves made towards that direction is the step taken by six parties to come up with what they termed as the 'Zanzibar Declaration' through which they expressed their determination to "work together" and "redouble our efforts in the fight for democracy in the country," as the document reads in part. It is not clear if these jointly-held activities will lead to the formation of the much sought-after United Democratic Front (DeFront) championed by Mr Zitto Kabwe.
Mr Duni says that if the opposition is to make any difference in the upcoming elections, unity is unavoidable. The late this unification comes the worse, according to Mr Duni.
According to the new law, a coalition formed one week before an election is illegal. "We are ready to have a single opposition candidate for any contested position," he says. "Even if the presidential candidate will not come from our party, we will be ready to support him/her." There is a tiny opportunity to unify the opposition compared to the size of the obstacles they face. "The playing field is strongly tilted against them, and the match officials support the other team," an analyst says. "In short, I expect them to lose, and to lose badly. Not because they are weak, or lack good ideas or good people or even popular support. But because the elections will not be free and will not be fair."
Mr Valentine dismisses this pessimism as "too dangerous." He agrees that the opposition has truly found it hard to operate in the last few years but that is not to say they have all lost all following. "I think as long as the opposition legally exists, they stand a good chance in the elections," he says. "Winning will require significant investment in independent monitoring of the process of voting, tallying, and announcing of the results."
The likely candidate to unite the opposition
It is not yet clear which person from the opposition can head the expected coalition ahead of the General Election and who will be able to unite voters across the political spectrum as much as the former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa is credited to do during the 2015 elections. There is arguably less talk about the topic but names like former Singida East Member of Parliament Tundu Lissu and Mr Kabwe has been pointed out as the likely candidates.
Mr John Seka, former Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) president, is of the opinion that the opposition has quite a number of good charismatic politicians who can stand against the incumbent. "I can't name a person," he says when asked to suggest one who qualifies for the candidacy.
"There are very good candidates there but I think any person who will be appointed must be as strong as possible to compete with popular [President John] Magufuli."
Asked if he doesn't think by delaying to name the person who will face Mr Magufuli minimizes the opposition's chances to win the election, Mr Duni says that the late the opposition names its candidate the better. "Both political and security circumstances show that it is folly to do so now," he says. "Anything could be done to stop him/her, killing, bribery, you name the tactics."
The supposed intraparty wrangling within CCM on the prospect of who will stand as the party's presidential candidate in the coming General Election is also said to play out well in the opposition's playbook.
Traditionally, CCM has its unwritten rule to let its incumbent president stand for a second term through the party's ticket unopposed. But lately, there have been unverified talks that this is not going to be a case in the coming election as the former presidential aspirant in the 2015 general elections Bernard Membe was said to have a plan to challenge that tradition. He has since been expelled from the party. Time will tell whether Mr Membe will join the opposition.
"We can't totally dismiss these talks," warns Mr Seka. "Remember, Mwalimu [Julius] Nyerere always said that the real opposition will come from within CCM."