Tanzanians may have to wait for constitutional changes as a government-sanctioned task force this week formally proposed in its preliminary report that the process should be postponed until after the 2025 General Election.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan said she agreed with the idea of "gradual improvements".
"After that we will see if there is still a need for wholesale constitutional changes. Perhaps a complete rewrite won't be necessary, only in some areas. And even if we do have to rewrite the whole document, most of the necessary amendment work will have already been done," she said.
The task force recommendations are expected to widen divisions among political parties and democracy activists over priority issues for Tanzania's democratic reforms.
The bone of contention is what should come first: A new Constitution addressing all aspects of the reforms agenda on a long-term basis, or Tume Huru (the independent electoral commission) ensuring a level playing field for all parties going into the 2025 poll.
Tanzania's two main opposition parties Chadema and ACT-Wazalendo have different priorities, with the former calling for a new Constitution and the latter putting the Tume Huru agenda first.
Task force chair Rwekaza Mukandala said, "We feel that there is not enough time to adopt a new Constitution as a reference point within the current calendar for the next election. The process can start immediately after the election, and our proposals on the ways it can be achieved, when the time is right, will be part of our final report to be delivered at a later date," he said.
However, on Wednesday, opposition leader Tundu Lissu announced from Brussels that he would be "coming home soon" to galvanise the Katiba Mpya movement to challenge the task force's recommendation.
"We need a new Constitution now, not in 2025. Otherwise CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi) and its organs will use this current Constitution to steal the election again just as it has always done since multiparty politics returned to Tanzania," said Mr Lissu, who is the vice-chairman of the Chadema party and who contested and lost the presidency against the John Magufuli in 2020. He rejected the final results in that election.
"Our goal, our thinking, our rallying cry should stay focused on Katiba Mpya, not election issues. It is the new Constitution that will enable a fair electoral system all-round," he told a Chadema youth wing meeting in Geita, western Tanzania, in a video-conference call.
Chadema chair Freeman Mbowe had pledged a few days earlier to keep constitutional change as its primary focus ahead of the 2025 election despite recent "reconciliatory" talks between himself, Mr Lissu and President Samia.
President Samia will be seeking her second and final presidential term in the 2025 election. According to the current Constitution, by October 2025 she will have served more than two-thirds of what would have been former president Magufuli's second term, making her eligible to run for only one full term of elective office.
Chadema boycotted a December conference citing doubts over its commitments towards ending a blanket clampdown on opposition politics from the Magufuli era. Mr Mbowe reiterated this stance on March 18, saying the forum's approach to resolving the constitutional stalemate and pushing for an independent electoral commission appeared more like "a strategy to further postpone the Katiba Mpya agenda".
The constitutional task force, comprising politicians, academicians, religious clerics, representatives of various political parties and civil society from the Mainland and Zanzibar was formed after a multi-party democracy conference in Dodoma convened by the Registrar of Political Parties and the Tanzania Centre for Democracy, a cross-party think-tank. ACT-Wazalendo’s leader Zitto Kabwe, who is the chair of the Tanzania Centre for Democracy, is also a member of the task force.
Mr Lissu said on Wednesday that Chadema would mobilise Tanzanians across the country to reject the task force's recommendation and "show how much the people want the new Constitution that we have been demanding for the past 30 years to be put in place immediately, since the president clearly does not want it."
The Chadema position is supported by the NCCR-Mageuzi party, which also did not attend the Dodoma conference.
"If you say you want an independent electoral commission before a new Constitution, you are looking just at election results without considering the entire system including acceptable police interventions and other civil rights," NCCR-Mageuzi’s head of publicity and public relations Edward Simbeye said.
The Civic United Front (CUF) party and the Legal and Human Rights Centre both supported ACT-Wazalendo's argument that the establishment of an independent electoral commission before the next election would help secure a new Constitution afterwards.
"It is possible that the new Constitution will continue to be delayed, which is why we think it would be more sensible to fight for an independent electoral commission for now," said CUF publicity secretary Mohamed Ngulangwa. "We believe that if there are problems with getting Katiba Mpya, Tume Huru will change all that."
Executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre Anna Henga said that under President Samia the constitutional review is being openly discussed, and that “2025 is not far off. It could be the best time to get things moving again all things considered.”
However, Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Network co-ordinator Onesmo Olengurumwa said that the Constitution should come first and be used as a platform for further democratic reforms. "The constitutional process has nothing to do with electoral activities and it would be improper to tie it to the election because it is not political,” he said.
While receiving the task force's report on Monday, President Samia said she would continue to "engage with political parties”. "The aim is for us to all be on board the same train and not some of us to choose to remain outside."