Tanzania’s opposition coalition Ukawa has officially welcomed former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa into its ranks in a plan to reinforce their efforts to defeat the ruling party CCM in the October presidential elections.
In a strange turn of events, the coalition came out to defend Mr Lowassa at a press conference on Monday, terming him a person of integrity and claiming that there was no evidence linking him to corruption allegations.
They further said that they believed Mr Lowassa would have been prosecuted if the allegations against him were true.
Freeman Mbowe, co-chair of Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Coalition and Chadema chairman, Ibrahim Lipumba, chairman of Civic United Front (CUF), James Mbatia, chairman of NCCR-Mageuzi and Emmanuel Makaidi, chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said at a press conference that they needed a strong coalition to defeat CCM in the October poll and were therefore inviting all Tanzanians to join them.
The new twist comes as sources within Chadema and Mr Lowassa’s faction told The EastAfrican that he had attended the party’s Central Committee (CC) meeting on Sunday night in one of the steps before he is officially announced as a member of Chadema and consequently the Ukawa presidential candidate.
If Mr Lowassa decamps to the opposition, the unprecedented move would likely pose the biggest challenge yet to the ruling CCM since its establishment in 1977.
Political analysts say his defection from CCM would bring more financial resources and major political support to the opposition and could be a game changer in the forthcoming election.
At Sunday night’s meeting, sources say that Chadema members grilled him on the corruption allegations that had dogged his campaign for the CCM ticket as well as on how he would help the party win the October poll.
Since a presidential candidate for the opposition coalition was expected to come from the principal partner Chadema, sources told The EastAfrican that Chadema had agreed to make him their presidential candidate in the October election.
While brushing off corruption allegations levelled against Mr Lowassa in the past, Prof Lipumba said the problem of corruption in Tanzania was systemic and could not be blamed on an individual, adding that no one had come forward with strong evidence linking him to the vice.
“If Mr Lowassa has decided to join the opposition, that is his own decision. He has consistently challenged anybody with evidence against him to come out but nobody has done so. We are inviting all the Tanzanians to join Ukawa. If Lowassa joins, our presidential candidate will be nominated based on constitutional process as stipulated by our parties,” Prof Lipumba said.
Mr Lowassa’s defection has largely been expected after CCM had axed him from the party presidential race due to fears that the corruption allegations would cost it the election.
Following Dr John Pombe Magufuli's win, it's said he immediately began to secretly negotiate with Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe on his move, but the negotiations attracted criticism and divisions within the opposition with key people worrying that the party would be unable to campaign on an anti-corruption agenda.
Sources told The EastAfrican that Ukawa had agreed to jointly support Mr Lowassa as the presidential candidate with Ismail Jussa Ladhu, the CUF deputy secretary for Zanzibar, likely to be his running mate.
The sources also indicate that Chadema will now focus on cleansing Mr Lowassa's public image by clarifying his role in the infamous Richmond scandal which led to his resignation as prime minister in 2008.