As soon as President John Magufuli came to power in 2015, he banned political rallies and demonstrations saying it was no longer time for politicking but working.
This sparked fierce criticism as the opposition branded the president a dictator seeking to clip the opposition’s wings.
His closest competitor in the contest for the presidency from the Ukawa coalition, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa had to call off his planned countrywide tour to thank his voters.
A year later Chadema mobilised a demonstration calling their supporters into the streets to protest against “rising dictatorship.” It never took off as the state deployed security personnel to counter it.
Yet, without public rallies, a political party can hardly rally support for its point of view.
Chadema, therefore, decided to fly below the radar so as to remain relevant rather than risk being burnt out or buried.
A series of arrests of opposition politicians who were charged with sedition, unlawful assembly and demonstration followed.
The party’s secretary general Vincent Mashinji says that about 400 Chadema members, including him and their chief legal advisor Tundu Lissu, are facing trial for sedition, unlawful assembly or demonstrations.
The party is now conducting a house-to-house awareness campaign to combat what it terms “dictatorial tendencies”.
Dr Mashinji said his party is trying to come to terms with reality and does not need public rallies to remain relevant.
Chadema has changed strategy to curb what it believes is a plot to suppress the opposition, and now plans to set up a social media centre where volunteers will gather and upload news and messages critical of various undertakings by the Magufuli administration.
Dr Mashinji says the President’s ban on political rallies is unlawful because the Political Parties Act 1992, states that all parties are allowed to recruit and retain members by conducting meetings, demonstrations and airing opinions on government policies and undertakings.
“Politics shall be there, regardless of the government of the day. We are using opportunities available to fault the Government so that the people can be aware of our opinion. Recently we talked with the media about the state of the economy and soon we will come up with an opinion on the state of education,” said Dr Mashinji.
Accusing President Magufuli of attempting to choke the opposition, Dr Mashinji says the crackdown on opposition supporters has made some of them flee their homes for fear of arrest.
“We are preparing a report on how many people have been displaced. Our research shows that President Magufuli has a legitimacy crisis and is afraid our political rallies will discredit and make him unpopular,” he added.
Dr Mashinji said the party needs to be consolidated and the people need to know Chadema’s political agenda. The lack of public meetings has pushed party cadres into going house-to-house to spread the party’s political philosophy.
Chadema, he said, has consolidated its leadership by giving more authority of zonal stewards who are educating the people not to be bullied by the authorities.
Dr Mashinji said the party will remain relevant and that its agenda for the 2020 election will be spread though a manifesto to be launched soon, covering good governance, political economy, health, education and defence.