Tension was high Friday in Dodoma where Tanzania’s ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi was moving closer to nominating its presidential candidate for the election in October, amid indications that popular aspirants had been rejected by the ethics committee on integrity grounds.
Anxiety began to build up Thursday when squabbling over the deletion of some of the party’s 38 presidential aspirants from the list forced the caucus discussions deep into the night before a new schedule of meetings was drawn up for the party’s decision-making organs.
Sources in CCM said party chairman President Jakaya Kikwete had preferred shorter meetings of the party’s critical organs so as to limit the horse-trading and potential fallout from the nominations, with one eye on a legacy of leaving CCM united and in the front seat in driving the country forward.
The main cause of anxiety among delegates were unconfirmed reports that popular candidates within the party’s rank and file, such as Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe and former prime minister Edward Lowassa, had been dropped by the ethics committee chaired by President Kikwete.
The fears over their prospects had emerged earlier in the week after President Kikwete said that the delegates should consider only candidates who had a clean record in public service. This was taken to be a thinly veiled attack on Mr Lowassa, who was forced to resign as prime minister in 2009 because of being implicated in a corruption scandal.
Mr Membe had been accused of compromising some party members and going around saying that he was President Kikwete’s preferred successor.
Party organs usually meet for a day but after the Thursday row, a new schedule was released showing that the central committee, which was to pick five names from the list of 38, based on the report of the ethics committee, would only meet for four hours in the afternoon.
The committee would then pass on its recommendations to the national executive committee, which was set to meet from 8pm Friday to draw up a final list of three, from which the Congress would pick the party’s flagbearer on Saturday morning (July 11).
Sources within CCM inner circles said the length of the sessions could be an indication that top party officials had made a decision and the meetings were just a formality.
Nape Nnauye, CCM ideology and publicity secretary, however said the original schedule was changed to allow President Kikwete to attend to other government and party duties and consultations on the best way to handle the process and leave the party undivided.
Reports indicated that after the central committee meeting ended at 6.30pm on Friday, the names it forwarded were those of Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Asha-Rose Migiro, the East Africa Legislative Assembly member Makongoro Nyerere, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology January Makamba, retired Chief Justice Augustino Ramadhan and the Minister for Works Dr John Magufuli.
From that list, sources said, Mr Ramadhani from Zanzibar, was likely to emerge as the nominee under the understanding that informed the Union between Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. So far, two past presidents, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Benjamin Mkapa and the sitting one, Kikwete, have been from the Mainland with only Ali Hassan Mwinyi coming from the islands.
Instructively, party sources said President Kikwete had warmed up to Mr Ramadhani in response to Zanzibari murmurs over budget allocations, over which some were calling for secession from the Union.
The Constitution provides that if the president comes from Zanzibar, the vice president shall be from the Mainland and vice-versa. The rotation of the presidency, like the alternation between Christians and Muslims, are unwritten traditions.
Should this scenario prevail, it would be the second time in CCM nominations that popular candidates have fallen by the wayside. In 1995, then president Mwinyi moved the national executive committee in favour of Mr Mkapa when Kikwete and Mr Lowassa were the frontrunners.