The job is one heartbeat away from the presidency and recent events in Tanzania have given added importance to the search for a new vice president after Samia Suluhu succeeded the late President John Pombe Magufuli.
According to Tanzania’s Constitution, the vice presidency vacancy must be filled within 14 days from when it falls vacant, meaning Ms Suluhu, who was sworn in as President on March 19, has until Friday to fill it.
“After consultation with the political party to which he or she belongs, the president shall propose the name of the person who shall be vice-president and such appointment shall be confirmed by the National Assembly by votes of not less than 50 per cent of all members of parliament,” Article 37 of the Constitution states.
President Suluhu’s choice will offer an early indication of her immediate inclinations as she strives to assert her authority on a political landscape that was thrown into confusion by Mr Magufuli’s unexpected exit.
Members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi top decision-making organ, the central committee, held an emergency meeting in Dar es Salaam on March 20, a day after President Suluhu was sworn in.
Although the agenda of that closed-door CCM meeting was not made public, political pundits believe it prioritised the importance of picking the right person as President Suluhu’s second-in-command. The name to be forwarded to Parliament may have already been decided at that meeting, sources told The EastAfrican.
Influential CCM central committee members include Tanzania’s two remaining ex-presidents, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Kikwete, long-serving deputy chairman Philip Mangula, and Ms Suluhu.
It remains unclear whether the final choice will be made by consensus, or if the new president will be allowed to have her own say and choose whomever she wants.
“If her mindset is to run for elective office in 2025, she will need a trustworthy VP who can help her consolidate power within CCM so she can set herself up as the inevitable ruling party nominee when the time comes,” a pundit said, on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.
According to Article 40 of the Constitution, Ms Suluhu would, by the time of the next election in October 2025, have completed more than two-thirds of the late Magufuli’s second term as an ‘elevated’ president and would be eligible to run for only one term.
The Constitution instructs that where the president comes from one side of the Union between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, the VP must come from the other. In this case, President Suluhu is from Zanzibar, narrowing her choice of deputy to a mainlander.
Tanzania is also known for its proportional religious equality and the Muslim President Suluhu may be minded to pick a Christian deputy.
Several names of possible VP choices have been bandied around, including Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa and National Assembly Speaker Job Ndugai who are both regarded as loyalists to the late Magufuli.
Also in the mix is a group of current powerful cabinet ministers including Prof Palamagamba Kabudi (Foreign Affairs), Leonard Chamuriho (Works and Transport) and Medard Kalemani (Energy).
Lands Minister William Lukuvi, a veteran politician who served in the Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa governments, is also seen as a strong candidate thanks largely to his reputation for efficiency.
On the other hand, former cabinet ministers January Makamba and Emmanuel Nchimbi are back into the reckoning as members of a younger generation of Tanzanian politicians who are believed to have the backing of ex-president Kikwete.
Makamba served in the Kikwete and Magufuli administrations but was fired by Magufuli for suspected disloyalty, while Nchimbi was an upcoming key minister in Kikwete’s government before being relegated to the fringes of Tanzanian politics as Magufuli’s ambassador to Brazil.
The dark horse in the race could be George Simbachawene, the Home Affairs Minister, who worked closely with President Suluhu as Minister of State in the Vice-President’s office. Whoever is chosen will come into an office whose importance has been considerably elevated in the past fortnight.