Bans on dissenting and ambitious party members believed to be angling for the presidency are among measures the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is taking to avoid divisions.
A year before President Jakaya Kikwete retires, the party is on a popularity drive in a move that also aims at controlling the succession.
CCM secretary-general Abdulrahman Kinana is on a nationwide tour that the party touts as inspection of implementation of its manifesto.
Accompanied by senior CCM and government leaders, he has been making promises and admonishing underperforming ministers in public.
Powers over government
Mr Kinana was named to the post in November 2012 in a major shake-up that gave the party sweeping powers.
“The party is in complete control; it has Nyerere-era powers over the government,” Bashiru Ally, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam, told The EastAfrican. “That’s why you hear Kinana ordering repossession of privatised enterprises, warning underperforming ministers... the party is in control.”
The party has, indeed, taken over the succession process, banning those who express interest in the presidency as a way of preserving unity ahead of the crucial General Election next year.
Former prime ministers Edward Lowassa and Frederick Sumaye, as well as Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, are among heavyweights serving one-year bans for “prematurely” expressing interest in the presidency.
Others sent into political oblivion are Minister in the Presidency Steven Wasira, Junior Minister January Makamba and ex-minister William Ngeleja.
“They are on probation; anyone who violates the ban will automatically lose qualifications to vie for leadership positions in the party,” CCM ideology and publicity secretary Nape Nnauye warned.
The leaders have since halted political activities, including fundraising at churches and mosques, attacking one another in public and mobilising within the party.
“I accept the decision because every party has its rules and procedures of getting its leaders,” said Mr Membe after the announcement of the bans. “We have to follow the rules.”
Mr Sumaye would, however, not be silenced without a fight. He has termed the ban unfair and vowed to appeal.
With the CCM ticket up for grabs, observers say the officials fear allowing members to start campaigning early could divide the party in the run-up to the polls, which explains their strategy to rein in ambition.
“President Kikwete is retiring; we will have a new president,” director of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Research for Education and Democracy (Redet) Centre, Dr Benson Bana, told The EastAfrican. “This is a critical period for CCM; they have to do what they can to remain united.
“The party doesn’t want early campaigns. They want to approach the elections as a united entity.”
CCM seems to have learnt a lesson from its experience in 2005 when it let individual members influence the transition, leaving the party deeply divided and weakened.
Then, President Kikwete won by more than 80 per cent of the vote but in 2010 his tally shrank to just over 60 per cent as the opposition won more seats than they did in the previous election.
Mr Ally attributed the gradual decline of the president’s popularity to divisions and corruption in CCM, which Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) exploited in its quest to become a government-in-waiting. He said: “CCM had to do something to avoid a repeat.
“That’s why they now want to control the transition.”
Prof Issa Shivji, one of the most celebrated academics in Tanzania, believes the shift is strategic rather than incidental.
“Look at what CCM are doing; they are campaigning,” he told The EastAfrican. “You should look at it as part of their strategy for next year.
“We have a new constitution making process, which also feeds into what will happen next year.”
CCM wants to have more powers than its individual members so as to eventually dictate who becomes president — unlike in 2005 when the process was hijacked by prospective candidates.
Some senior CCM MPs who spoke to The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity said although Mr Membe and Mr Lowassa were emerging as strong candidates to succeed Mr Kikwete, the duo has weaknesses that could see them dropped for a Zanzibari.
Mr Membe is said to have no strong base in CCM and a camp of rich supporters to fund his campaign, while Mr Lowassa’s ill health and tainted record in government make him a liability to the party, although he enjoys solid party support. Mr Sumaye was described by Dr Bana as an “underperformer and a less serious contender” for the top post.
Dr Ali Mohammed Shein, the President of Zanzibar and former vice-president, is tipped for the top job as a compromise candidate, sources within CCM said.