Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, is shifting its focus from the ongoing constitutional review to push for electoral reforms in a bid to ensure that nearly six million new voters are registered ahead of the general election next year.
This is after the proceedings at the Constituent Assembly in Dodoma — which is expected to herald constitutional and electoral reforms to strengthen the country’s electoral democracy — were marred by disputes that led to an opposition walkout from the CA. There are now fears that the country could go to the polls without a new constitution.
Section two of Chapter 12 of the draft constitution under debate by the Constituent Assembly proposes the formation of an independent electoral commission, whose chairperson and deputy will be recommended to the president by a select committee. The president will then submit the names to parliament for vetting.
The proposed law further stipulates that the electoral commission will not receive orders from any government authority or political party while executing its duties and its members must not belong to any political party.
Chadema now wants these changes effected to the current electoral laws to make the current National Electoral Commission independent and enable it to deliver credible, free and fair elections.
Dr Willbroad Slaa, the Chadema secretary-general, said the party was seeking the changes because it was unlikely the new constitution would be in place before the 2015 elections.
“The permanent voter register has not been updated since the 2010 elections. The Constituent Assembly will be adjourned until August when we think amendments to the existing constitution should be made to allow free and fair elections. It is not a must that the new constitution should be passed before the 2015 elections. Our party will not participate in any election from now until the voter register has been updated,” Dr Slaa said.
Going by the 2012 census and estimates that more than one million new voters come on stream each year, it is projected that 5.8 million new voters will be eligible to vote in the 2015 elections, which is seen as a significant number by key political parties.
President Jakaya Kikwete received 5.6 million votes to win the election in 2008.
Recent research shows that unemployment, education and lack of opportunities to participate in the decision making process are key issues facing the youth.
Political scientists say that trends in the previous elections show that youth reaching the voting age tend to be more pro-Chadema than adults; therefore, Chadema has a stake in getting the permanent voter register updated, but the question remains whether the youth will turn out to vote or, indeed, whether Chadema itself will remain united until the 2015 elections and will have youthful politicians representing the party in key areas to court the youth constituency.
For example, while 20.1 million people registered to vote in 2010, only 8.6 million actually turned out to vote.
Dr Bernadeta Kiliani, a university lecturer and political scientist, said it was a good idea for the opposition to focus on the electoral reforms because chances are that the new constitution will not be passed before the 2015 elections, given that the dispute over the structure of the Union is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Alternatively, she envisioned a scenario in which the Constituent Assembly could be used to improve on the electoral processes and address issues such as private presidential and parliamentary candidates in the current constitution.
“Opposition parties are keen on the youth constituency because they tend to vote for the opposition, but CCM may not support the voter register update because they will not benefit from the constituency,” Dr Kiliani said.
Another concern is the fact that most voters may not participate in the municipal elections due in October compared with the general election where the president and MPs are voted, which tend to interest more voters.
The National Electoral Commission has said it cannot afford to update the register twice between two general elections, and it while it could update it for the 2015 general election, this will certainly not be in time for the civic polls billed for this year.
At a meeting with all key political parties, NEC said it was currently soliciting funds to buy a biometric system with which to update the permanent voter register for the constitutional referendum and the 2015 general election, not for the October civic elections.