Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has signaled, once again, her reluctance to allow changes to the supreme law, until, at least after the next elections.
The country is headed for civic elections in 2024, as well as later parliamentary and presidential polls in 2025. But the Tanzanian leader has faced increasing demands to change the constitution passed in 1977, with opposition groups arguing the law is too archaic for today’s use.
Yet Samia, whether tactical or logically, says the country has no time to prepare for elections while amending its laws.
“It will take time to write and endorse the new constitution. We are going to start with awareness and education campaigns to the people of Tanzania to make them know what the constitution is before we sit down to write a new constitution”, she said in Dar es Salaam on Monday, speaking to a gathering of political party leaders.
Samia said that drafting of the new constitution was a process that needed an ample knowledge and political awareness that would equip Tanzanian people to understand their rights and needs for their daily lives.
“The Constitution is not just a book. Very few Tanzanians know its contents and it needs to be subjected to awareness campaigns for people to understand it,” she said.
This is the second time her office has counter-argued the constitutional review demands. Yet it was also obvious that the current law seems easier for her to use to contest the presidency than if it were changed as per desires of the opposition groups.
Samia succeeded John Pombe Magufuli who died in office in March 2021. In 2025, she will be running for the first time for presidency. Under Tanzanian law, a vice president who succeeds her president before the holder of that office has run out three years of the term is deemed to have led for a full term. Tanzanian Presidents cannot lead for more than two terms of five years each.
Yet, the current constitution loads immense power in the presidency and has no provision for courts to overturn the presidential election results announced by the electoral commission.
It also allows the president to appoint judges and members of the electoral commission, something opposition groups argue makes the field of play unlevelled.
In Tanzania, in spite of the current constitution lasting since 1977, the country only began multiparty elections in 1995.
The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (an original product of a merger between Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party has been in power since 1977, making it the longest surviving ruling party in East Africa.
At the opening session of a three-day political meeting in Dar es Salaam on Monday, Samia told an audience she is first targeting political education and awareness campaigns that would equip Tanzanians with an ample knowledge on new constitution rather than rushing to draft then compile the document.
This, she said, is aimed at familiarising Tanzanians with the current constitution, before then picking out possible areas for improvement.
She further wanted political parties, religious and civil society organization leaders attending the meeting to address Tanzania’s envisaged Vision 2050 that will replace the Tanzania Vision 2025 for the long-term development plan.
“The Vision 2025 to 2050 Agenda is most important for Tanzania’s development path that you can discuss through this meeting”, she told the 700 participants in Dar es Salaam.
The president took the podium to warn political parties engaged on dirty campaigns and abusive languages that would break the Tanzanian laws and creating heartedness to the people on religious grounds.
She spoke after opposition leaders were on Sunday detained in Arusha for assembling without police permission. Tundu Lissu, the deputy chairman of opposition Chadema party later told the media they had been freed on bail that Sunday but that they would be facing charges of illegal assembly.
Tanzanian President had earlier this year lifted a five-year ban on political rallies imposed by her predecessor. But on Monday, she argued some politicians were abusing the very freedoms she had given by insulting her, instead of galvanising their political grassroots support.
“We had wanted the parties to rebuild, review their ideologies and re-invite those who had quit their organisations so that when we go to elections, everyone is ready to sell their policies.
“But what do we get today? I am not surprised that all they do is insult others, and shift goal posts on the agenda,” she argued.
In Dar es Salaam, she insisted to apply her “4Rs” Philosophy that would guide her to embrace political reconciliation.
The 4Rs stands for Reconciliation, Resilience, Reforms and Rebuilding in addressing the contemporary issues affecting Tanzania’s social, political and economic systems.
In 2021, President Samia revived the push for constitutional reform and set up a 23-member task force to lead the exercise that would advise her government on new constitution requirements. That Taskforce returned a recommendation for awareness first, amendments later.
The previous constitution review proposals included the formation of three governments made up of two semi-autonomous governments of Tanganyika and Zanzibar under the federal government of the United Republic of Tanzania. The proposal was opposed in Tanzanian parliament, however.
The actual steps to amend the constitution were actually began by former President Jakaya Kikwete in 2012. His review commission was, at the time, chaired by former Attorney General and Prime Minister (former), Retired Judge Joseph Warioba.