President Jakaya Kikwete, the Chama cha Mapinduzi chairman, holds the key to giving the country his successor as more than 1,700 delegates start flocking to the capital Dodoma in preparation for the nomination of the party’s flagbearer in the October presidential election.
Sources within CCM told The EastAfrican that the ruling party is split between members who want a generational change in the leadership of both the party and the country and those seeking to maintain the status quo.
But besides the president’s influence, political commentators and CCM insiders told The EastAfrican that the religion and age of the candidate and whether they come from Zanzibar or not will be critical in clinching the CCM presidential ticket.
In a historic shift, 40 CCM members have collected nomination forms. The high number has sparked debate on whether the party is deliberately working at weakening candidates seen as strong.
Sources said President Kikwete would chair most of the meetings to determine the outcome of the nomination.
In 2005, president Benjamin Mkapa had wanted Dr Abdallah Kigoda as his successor but changed his mind at the last minute and supported then foreign affairs minister Kikwete mainly on the grounds that the party needed a young presidential candidate.
“The CCM chairman has a lot of influence in deciding the party candidate,” the source said.
“President Kikwete has one vote but he sets the tone of the election. In 2005, president Mkapa presented to the party’s central committee the names of five people he felt were strong contenders and nobody disputed the names.”
However, other sources privy to the party’s affairs said it was unlikely that President Kikwete would command similar powers, citing recent events such as the central committee rejecting his two key agendas, including the referendum and three-tier government proposal.
Prof Bernadeta Killian, a political scientist and researcher, nonetheless said the outgoing president has the power and influence to determine the party’s presidential candidate. President Kikwete’s style of operating may lead to his backing a surprise candidate despite the head of state facing a difficult time from party hardliners, according to Prof Killian.
Dr Benson Bana, the head of political science and public administration at the University of Dar es Salaam, echoed Prof Killian’s view that President Kikwete’s role in his position as party chairman will help to set the tone of the meeting.
“The best way is to let democracy take the lead if they want to ensure free and fair nomination,” said Dr Bana.
Speaking of the candidacy of retired Chief Justice, Augustino Ramadhani, he said that the judge declaring his candidacy shows that he was still a CCM member while serving in the judiciary.
“This race is not a matter of young against old and vice-versa; all those who picked up nomination forms are capable of leading but the party should nominate a candidate who is capable of delivering.”
There is so far no clear frontrunner in the CCM contest, although Edward Lowassa is widely seen as the most powerful person within the party. However, his opponents within the party have questioned his ill health and his involvement in the Richmond energy scandal that led to his resignation as prime minister in 1995.
They further argue that since corruption has frequently come up in recent opinion polls as among the main concerns of the public, by nominating him the party risked losing the presidency to the opposition.
Multiple interviews with CCM insiders however indicate that Minister for Agriculture Steven Wassira and Deputy Mnister for Communications, Science and Technology January Makamba have good chances of securing the ticket because of their popularity.
They are also seen as neutral candidates, not associated with powerful factions threatening to divide the party.
Although Justice Ramadhani is not popular within the party, he is highly regarded as a surprise and neutral candidate.
The party is yet to conduct a poll to determine the contenders’ popularity but Mr Wassira and Mr Makamba secured top two spots in the NEC national election. Mr Makamba secured 80.11 per cent of the vote when he garnered 2,093 votes against eight other contestants in the CCM primaries won by Mr Wassira with 2,125 votes. The same members of NEC will vote during the nomination.
Mr Lowassa did not contest for a national NEC seat, choosing instead to run in his constituency. He has campaigned since 1995 when he vied for the first time, and president Julius Nyerere rejected him on the grounds that he had enriched himself rather too fast. Mr Lowassa then supported Mr Kikwete, who also lost.
Mr Lowassa recently said that, having been the chairman of President Kikwete’s campaign team in 2005, he decided against running in 2010 so as to support the president.
Recently, both Mr Makamba and Mr Wassira led a powerful committee set up by President Kikwete to develop the party’s manifesto which will be launched after the nominations.
But Prof Killian says while religion and the Zanzibar factor are unwritten requirements, public opinion expects the party to nominate a Christian and Zanzibari presidential candidate. This state of affairs seems to favour Justice Ramadhani.