The Catholic church has entered the electoral fray with the president of Tanzania Episcopal Conference Archbishop Gervas Nyaisonga urging those who “uphold Catholic values” not to boycott elections.
This follows the boycott by opposition political parties of civic elections scheduled for November 23.
The boycott has sparked fears of a constitutional crisis if the government makes good its threat to go ahead even without the contestants who have withdrawn.
The parties withdrawal from an election is a first for Tanzania and is a culmination of political restrictions imposed by President John Magufuli who banned political rallies in 2015. There have been no campaigns in the run-up to this election.
Archbishop Nyaisonga, who is heads the Catholic church in Tanzania was speaking during commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the priesthood of the Bishop of Shinyanga, Liberatus Sangu.
As leader of the 10 million strong congregation, the prelate said boycotting the polls was not the solution but that contestants must work together to address the challenges that brought this about.
The Civic United Front (CUF) on Tuesday this week became the latest major opposition party to boycott the election to protest perceived foul play, particularly in the registration of candidates.
Earlier, Chadema, ACT-Wazalendo and NCCR-Mageuzi had announced withdrawal, presenting the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party with an open route victory.
At least three smaller parties without representation in parliament, United People Democratic Parties, Chama cha Ukombozi wa Umma (Chauma) and Chama cha Kijamii (CCK), have also joined the stay-away bandwagon, although a coalition of other parties dismissed it citing the Kiswahili proverb: Mwenye njaa hawezi kususia chakula (a hungry person cannot boycott food).”
The poll will elect ward councillors and local government leaders and is seen as litmus test ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
But with just a week to go, the coalition’s threat is clearly weak and all the signs point to CCM lording over the opposition.
The disgruntlement stems from the fact that by November 6, more than three-quarters of opposition nominees for the polls had been disqualified by the supervisory authority for flimsy reasons that included being illiterate, being people of no fixed abode, and being ‘drunks’.
Others had found registration offices closed when they tried to apply, or discovered that the application forms they submitted had been tampered with to reflect non-existent ‘errors’.
One ACT-Wazalendo candidate was disqualified on grounds that his party was not on the approved list by the Registrar of Political Parties.
All this was happening even as the election supervisory authorities exhibited blatant favouritism in registering CCM candidates without fuss.
The views of Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the opposition Chadema party, last Friday, were echoed in quick succession by ACT Wazalendo party leader Zitto Kabwe, NCCR-Mageuzi chairman James Mbatia, and CUF chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba.
Local Government Minister Selemani Jafo, who is supervising all preparations for the elections, has been at pains to play down the mass boycott by ‘reinstating’ all the candidates who were disqualified despite filling in the forms, and asserting that their names and parties would be included on the polling sheets all the same.
Mr Jafo is now facing public scrutiny for apparently overstepping his boundaries in personally endorsing the candidate ‘reinstatements’ without consulting organs mandated to handle electoral appeals, and for intent to subvert the boycott by offering the individual candidates the proverbial ‘carrot’.