Tanzania new parties cry foul over registration delays as polls near

Saturday June 01 2024

President Samia Suluhu , chairperson of CCM, greets delegates during the ruling party meeting in Dodoma, Tanzania. PHOTO | REUTERS


As Tanzania braces for civic elections in five months and a general election next year, questions are being raised on another key aspect, the registration of new political parties.

Two new parties have voiced their frustrations over delays and other hurdles in securing registration certificates in time for the local government elections in October, amid reports that the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties has blocked all new registrations for the time being.

The fledgling Independent People’s Party (IPP) and Action for Human Justice (AHJ Wajamaa) claim they have paid the required Tsh1 million ($384) fee for provisional registration but are still awaiting word from the registrar's office.

They say the unexplained hold-ups amount to denying them the right to participate in the elections at ward, council and parliamentary levels, and paint a poor picture of Tanzania's democratic process at a particularly sensitive time.

In a letter addressed to President Samia Suluhu last December, a copy of which The EastAfrican has seen, AHJ Wajamaa accused the registrar, Judge Francis Mutungi, of suspending new party registration for an "indefinite" period late last year.

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The EastAfrican contacted the registrar on telephone for comment and he said that he was not in a position to answer any questions without a physical meeting at his office in the administrative capital Dodoma.

“I can only give you the background of what you are inquiring about if you meet me face-to-face here in Dodoma,” he said. “As for the two applicants, they need to follow the correct procedures as laid out in the law and regulations governing political party registration.”

Tanzania currently has 19 registered political parties and has not registered any new ones for at least a decade, the latest being ACT-Wazalendo in May 2014.

In November 2016, the registrar cancelled out three other parties — Chama Cha Haki na Usawa (Chausta), African Progressive Party of Tanzania (APPT-Maendeleo) and Jahazi Asilia — for contravening law provisions related to proper keeping of financial and property records. Judge Mutungi said at the time that the decision was based on an audit of political parties on compliance with the law and its regulations.

AHJ Wajamaa said in its letter to President Samia, dated December 19, 2023 and signed by founder chairperson Maghus Msambila and secretary Kube Lowassa, that it had information to the effect that Judge Mutungi had put a stop on new political party registrations since around September to make way for a fresh audit of existing parties.

"This order does not clarify when the verification ends and registration of new parties resumes. It also doesn’t state whether it was a formal or informal order endorsed by yourself (Samia). We find it hard to believe that an institution of such standing, led by a judge and incorporating many legal experts, does not understand the implications of taking such action unless by order from higher authorities," the letter stated.

The party said it had been seeking registration since 2016 and completed all formalities in 2022, including meeting relevant conditions and paying the registration fee. But follow-ups with the registrar's office have drawn a blank so far.

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"We have not been told why our registration is still on hold, what the problem is or how long we should continue to wait,” they said in the letter.

“It has got to a point where no one at the office is answering our phone calls apart from the registrar himself who offered no answers other than to tell us to stay patient. And yet they continue to hold on to the fee we paid." AHJ Wajamaa called for President Samia's intervention to resolve the matter.

IPP co-founder Andrew Bomani, whose father Mark Bomani was once Tanzania's attorney-general, said he and Vyonheaven Urima had been chasing registration for over a year, only to be told recently that they had "failed to provide proof of Tanzanian citizenship," among other documentation issues.

"Not only does this undermine our basic democratic rights, it also threatens to put us at risk of statelessness," Mr Bomani told The EastAfrican.

According to correspondence between IPP and the registrar's office, the party was notified on March 4, 2024 that the documents it had presented in support of its application did not conform with requirements set out in the Political Parties Regulations of 2019. These included incomplete data in the forms to “sufficiently prove Tanzanian nationality” and failure to stipulate the party’s address, constitution and policies.

According to the letter signed by Sisty Nyahoza on behalf of the registrar, copies of birth certificates for Mr Bomani and Ms Urima were not enough to "confirm citizenship."

In a response to the registrar's office dated March 6, the party founders said they were considering legal action.

in the light of obvious attempts to block our registration by using tricks."

"Unless your office can provide proper examples of what type of documents are needed to show what citizenship entails, we shall seek further clarification from the courts on this matter," they said. "We are beginning to get a clear picture of intent to deny us the right to participate in the upcoming elections and we inform you that we will use every means to secure that right, including filing a court petition to prevent those elections from taking place until the registration of our party is completed."

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On the issue of an office address, they said they were awaiting at least temporary registration before looking for permanent premises.
"It is beyond reason to expect us to start incurring the costs of renting office space before we even know the fate of our application," they argued.

IPP said in its letter that the registrar's office already has all the documentation needed to accomplish registration and the party sees no need to bother about submitting further documents.

The party's application also included copies of national identity cards and passports belonging to Mr Bomani's parents Mark and Rahma.

On request, Mr Bomani also showed The EastAfrican copies of his own ID card due to expire in April 2030 and his most recent Tanzanian passport, which expired in 2017.