President Magufuli caught up in MPs’ bids to change term limits

Sunday October 8 2017

Tanzanian President John Magufuli.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli. A political showdown is looming over presidential term limits. PHOTO | FILE 

By ERICK KABENDERA
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The wave of electoral law changes sweeping across East Africa and meant to favour incumbents appears to be gathering speed in Tanzania.

Chemba MP Juma Nkamia is next month expected to table a motion before Parliament to extend presidential terms from five to seven years, as is the case in Rwanda.

The law amendment is widely seen as a testing ground in favour of extending President John Magufuli’s tenure. He is currently serving his first term.

A political showdown is looming, with the opposition Chadema MP John Heche planning to separately table in Parliament a counter private motion to reduce the presidential term to four years, as is the case in the US.

The outcome of the contest is expected to have a bearing on the country’s constitution review that has stalled since 2015.

Mr Nkamia’s move comes weeks after another MP Stephen Ngonyani said President Magufuli should rule for 20 years.

In July a politician from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Laurence Mabawa, started a social media campaign dubbed “Baki Magufuli” (Stay Magufuli) and said he would travel across the country to have President Magufuli’s tenure in office extended.

President Mwinyi

The seeds for the agitation to extend Magufuli’s appear to have been laid in April when a former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi said that a law allowing President Magufuli to extend his tenure in office for four terms should be considered. The former president said the incumbent needed this to continue installing discipline in the civil service and enhance access to healthcare.

“If it wasn’t for term limits, I would have suggested that Magufuli should be our president for eternity,” he said.

Two months later, a section of residents from Geita in northwestern Tanzania, where the president comes from called for amendments to the Constitution to allow him to serve for 20 years.

Opposition

The opposition Chadema party believes the president is behind the campaign that is gaining momentum but Dr Magufuli has repeatedly said at public rallies that he would respect the Constitution and step down after serving his two terms in office.

The opposition also sees the moves by ruling party legislators as part of an attempt to set the agenda for the stalled Constitution review that was abandoned in the run up to the October 2015 election that saw President Magufuli succeed Jakaya Kikwete.

“We will be surprised if the agenda is discussed in parliament because the discussion since 2012 has been a new Constitution, not extension of term limit. If the president hasn’t sent the MP to push for such an agenda, he should come out to resist such calls,” said Chadema’s director of protocol, communication, ideology and foreign affairs John Mrema.

Chadema fears the country could be plunged into political chaos if Mr Nkamia tables the motion as was witnessed in Uganda two weeks ago when a motion to remove presidential age limits was introduced in Parliament.

“Such calls are dangerous for national security. We don’t want to pursue the Uganda route but we want a new constitution that would set a precedent as that in Kenya when the Supreme Court invalidated President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win on August 8 over electoral malpractices,” said Mr Mrema.

However, the ruling Jubilee party in Kenya is pushing changes that would make it harder for a presidential election to be allowed on account of technicalities without due regard to the numbers the winning presidential candidate garnered.