Dar es Salaam — With the 2020 General Election just around the corner, opposition parties face a litmus test over how to approach the presidential election, given the 2015 experience and a near impossible legal bottleneck.
Despite over 25 years of multiparty politics, the Opposition is still nascent and have faced a daunting task to surmount a formidable challenge from the well-established and dominant ruling party, CCM.
And like in many young democracies in Africa, opposition parties continue to struggle with own operational challenges, including building one outfit that could stand a chance at the elections.
During the 2015 General Election, the parties united via what was fashioned as Ukawa, a coalition that fronted former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa as a joint presidential candidate.
The year saw the opposition recording the best result ever, with parties significantly increasing their seats in Parliament.
Lowassa, who had defected from CCM after a fallout with his party, also registered the highest ever votes by an opposition candidate, scoring 40 percent in the election.
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He was defeated by President John Magufuli who got over 58 per cent of the vote. Buoyed by that performance, the opposition parties say they have come of age and believe they could have a realistic chance of unseating CCM in a free and fair election.
But that is as far as the wishes could go. Over the last five years, the opposition have faced what they say is a crafted attempt to break them. They point to the blanket ban on their meetings and alleged constant harassment by the police.
A number of their MPs have since quit their respective parties and declared support for CCM, which they will support in this year's elections.
Mr Lowassa is among the 2015 game changers, who have since returned to the ruling party, leaving a bitter mouth among those who supported him in 2015.
The questions now among opposition leaders and supporters are; how will they approach the 2015 elections from the disadvantaged position? Will they retain the same support they enjoyed in 2015?
Will the parties have a united front to face CCM? Who will be given that mantle to run, or will the parties go their separate ways, and at what risk?
These are questions that only time could answer. Analysts agree that the opposition parties would be greatly disadvantaged should they go separately against CCM which has all the resources and experience since independence.
President Magufuli has already bagged the ticket for re-election for the Union and Zanzibar has whittled down the list of 31 presidential aspirants to five from which the Isle's CCM candidate will be unveiled later this week.
As for Chadema, ACT-Wazalendo, the Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi and the other small- er opposition parties, the search for respective presidential candidates is on, the possibility of uniting behind one of them as was the case for 2015 appearing a mirage at this point.
Augustine Mrema's TLP and UDP's John Cheyo have thrown their support behind President Magufuli.
With NCCR-Mageuzi's leader James Mbatia taking a leap of faith to try his own luck in 2020, and with CUF struggling to get a footing since the fallout between its top leaders Seif Shariff Hamad and Prof Ibrahim Lipumba with the former and his supporters moving base, the eyes are on Chadema and ACT-wazalendo as the likely forces to decide the opposition's fate in the elections, barring any other forces.
Chadema last week opened the window for aspirants to declare interest in the ticket for the presidency and other levels and so far Hashim Salum Hashim has collected the forms for Zanzibar while former Singida East MP Tundu Lissu, Lazaro Nyalandu and Dr Mayrose Majinge have expressed interest in the Union race.
As for ACT-Wazalendo, party leader Zitto Kabwe says they are still consulting, including with other like-minded leaders over how they should approach the nomination.
It is rumoured that either Kabwe or ex-foreign minister Bernard Membe could be the party's choice for the Union ticket while Mr Hamad is set to run for the sixth time in Zanzibar under ACT-Wazalendo.
Mr Membe on Monday announced he had parted ways with CCM, whose Central Committee had stripped him of membership, the decision await- ing the endorsement of the National Executive Committee, likely this weekend in Dodoma.
Membe has not indicated where he is heading to but has been publicly quoted as saying he would be running for the presidency in October 2020. Mr Kabwe has said ACT-Wazalendo would be ready to welcome him.
Should Membe join the opposition and run for the presidency, it will invoke the 2015 memories of Lowassa who was CCM's big shot to defect and land the opposition ticket. But part of the opposition supporters are worried about such a repeat, considering the fact that Lowassa is now seen as a betrayer after rejoining CCM.
Chadema, which was the main opposition party in Parliament, is mostly to worry over the experience. Little has come out of a reported committee they established to talk to other parties on the likely opportunity of fronting a joint oppo- sition candidate. The parties have no luxury over such a unity outfit. An amendment to the Political Parties
Act recently, means the opposition are almost time-barred to form an Ukawa alliance for forthcoming election.
Other than the legal huddle on a coalition, the parties will also have to surmount apparent mistrust among themselves, the need for each of them to want to bag enough number of presidential votes and the number MPs to raise their subsidy and the fear to repeat the 'Lowassa betrayal' to get a suitable candidate to rally around and sell to their supporters.
"Parties with the intention of a coalition are late because currently no cooperation document has been submitted to the registrar of political parties as the law requires," assistant registrar of political parties Sisty Nyahoza said recently.
The document is supposed to be filed three months before the election and after all the agreeing parties have held their general assembly meetings.
For CUF and NCCR-Mageuzi, the matter boils down to what they claim are crumbs they got from the Ukawa record. "Chadema, whose presidential candidate we endorsed benefited more.
That's why there is hesitation in striking a deal for a new cooperation," said CUF deputy secretary general Magdalena Sakaya.
But Chadema secretary general John Mnyika said: "We opened a cooperation door with other political parties, whose development will be communicated."
Mr Kabwe has also said talks are underway to find a com- mon ground. A political science lecturer at the University of Dodoma (Udom), Dr Godfrey Sansa, said the cooperation could only be a gentleman-kind of agreement. He said it would be diffi- cult to defeat the incumbent without a grand opposition coalition.
Prof Bakari Mohamed from the University of Dar es Salaam said: "Despite some political parties being discouraged by the 2015 cooperation through Ukawa, we can't rule out anything as the election temperature rises."
He said political parties could cooperate informally by supporting each other in respective strongholds, constituencies and wards.