Opposition and lawyers vow to fight law meant to cripple political parties

Sunday December 16 2018

chadema supporters

Supporters of Tanzania's opposition party Chadema celebrate outside a polling station in Dar es Salaam on October 27, 2015. Opposition leaders and lawyers in Tanzania have vowed to fight law meant to cripple political parties. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By ERICK KABENDERA
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Opposition parties and legal experts in Tanzania say they will contest the proposed amendments to the Political Parties Act in court over what they term attempts to exclude the former from political activities.

The proposed Bill seeks to shield the Registrar of Political Parties from any legal suit that would emanate from his conduct, including how he deals with the opposition.

Under the current constitution, the Registrar is an appointee of the sitting president.

Opposition leaders are already taking measures to stop the Bill but the amendments, which are expected to be passed in the January 2019 parliamentary session, are likely to go through given that the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi commands a majority in the House.

These developments come as President John Magufuli's administration is under scrutiny from local and international human-rights groups and development partners for cracking down on opposition parties and leaders and stifling freedom of expression.

Amendments

Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the main opposition party Chadema, is in prison in what some see as part of efforts to weaken the party.

However, the opposition leaders have said that the amendments, which among other things ban political parties from receiving financial support from abroad would equally impact the CCM, which has been one of the beneficiaries of Chinese Communist Party, funding of the construction of the party’s Dodoma Convention Centre.

Zitto Kabwe, the ACT-Wazalendo party leader, said that the amendments would infringe constitutional rights and undermine multiparty democracy.

He further said that the opposition was taking all measures to stop the Bill from being passed in parliament, including going to court if they fail to persuade other Members of Parliament not to vote for the changes.

“The opposition leaders are widely consulting to have a broad-based movement against all of forms of authoritarianism creeping into our country. We will fight against overt and covert attempts to turn Tanzania into a de facto one-party state,” Mr Kabwe told The EastAfrican.

Legal immunity

Among the contested sections in the Bill are sections seeking to give the Registrar of Political Parties legal immunity from litigation for decisions taken in line with the new law.

While the existing Act provides room for political parties to sue the Registrar, the proposed amendments give the office total immunity and specifically that he is not liable for negligence.

The faction of the Civic United Front (CUF) affiliated with secretary-general Hamad Seif is currently suing the Registrar of Political Parties for disbursing Tsh3.6 billion annual party subsidy to another faction of the CUF without the party's consent.

If the proposed amendments pass, the suit against the Registrar will be null and void.

Section 7 of the proposed amendment states: “No suit shall lie against the Registrar, Deputy Registrar, Assistant Registrar or other officers appointed under this Act, for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith, in the performance of any function under this Act.”

Fatma Karume, the president of the Tanganyika Law Society told The EastAfrican that if the amendments pass, there will be legal repercussions.

“I have been looking at the possibility of stopping a law that is not only unconstitutional but also discriminatory and unreasonable from being tabled before parliament.

“Unfortunately, if the law is tabled, we all know that CCM will pass it without consideration of its legality and we will then have to go to court. So let us see if we can go to court before it is tabled. It may save us all a lot of time,” said Ms Karume.

The amendments also seek to ban political parties from operating as pressure groups, which the opposition leaders say would make it impossible for them to hold political campaigns and conduct policy work.

Although amendments recognise the formation of political parties coalition, they give powers to the minister responsible for good governance to prescribe how such a coalition would be set up.

The minister, being loyal to the ruling party, would be free to come up with regulations making it impossible for the opposition to function.

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