There is a light side to the electoral campaigns going on in Tanzania that belies the underlying seriousness of what might really be at stake by the time we get to the home run in the last week of October.
For one, there is a large number of would-be candidates who have so far been declared unqualified to stand because of this or that infraction committed in the filling out (or filling in) of their forms.
The main opposition parties in the Union general election have condemned the move as an attempt to remove as many opposition candidates as possible to clear the way for the ruling party to stand unopposed in virtually all the constituencies.
This has an uncanny resemblance to another round of disqualifications which attended last year’s civic elections, which led to a boycott by the main opposition parties, leaving CCM the only party in contention and the ridiculous results which gave the ruling party close to a 100 per cent of the seats, rather like we are used to seeing in certain countries where elections are generally decided before the first ballot is cast.
This time the ‘serious opposition’, comprising two parties, have declared they are not walking out on the vote and that they will pressure the electoral authorities until their candidates are reinstated.
The National Electoral Commission has promised to reassess the candidacies and give the final verdicts by September 10, which falls on Thursday.
It is hard to see what would happen if the NEC stood its ground and refused to heed the parties’ complaints, but already it has become evident that the parties do command a considerable following, and that circumstances could become dire if they chose to go down the route of civil disobedience.
What raises eyebrows of even uninterested parties is the lopsidedness of the disqualifications on technical grounds which tend to show the opposition as the ones most prone to making errors in completing their nomination forms as opposed to their CCM counterparts when the educational levels would suggest no disparities in levels of literacy.
There have been grim warnings issued by veteran Zanzibar opposition leader, Seif Sharif Hamad of ACT-Wazalendo, the man believed by many to have been cheated out of elections since 1995,who says ‘this time enough is enough’. This has been echoed by Chadema’s leaders, chairman Freeman Mbowe and Union presidential candidate Tundu Lissu.
I shall leave that part of the argument for the NEC to resolve next week, but in the meantime let me mention a couple of humorous moments we have been treated to since these campaigns started, from the man who has been dishing out meals of biryani with mutton calling on people to vote for him as president because he knows the value of feeding the people well, to the one who suspected his forms would be stolen before he filed them before the returning officer, so he invented a ruse.
The biryani man is a lawyer and court broker who has been running for president since these races started, and no one seems to remember what percentage of the votes he garnered in all the previous elections. Hashim Rungwe, white beard and nerdy spectacles, tells people how Julius Nyerere used to feed him well as a student and says that is what made him so smart, and promises to do the same if elected president.
Someone was wondering whether his culinary largesse would last till end of October, or whether if the rice ran out his campaign would fall flat on its nose.
The bizarre is never too far. A Dar es Salaam ‘Christian’ cleric known for his charlatanism has been picked by CCM to run for parliament in an opposition stronghold. A video clip of him has been showing him howling that he will turn mosques into Sunday schools if elected. You get to wonder if the madness is within him or in those who chose him.
Then there has been the candidate who sewed his forms into the seam of his jacket, leaving fake forms unguarded for his opponents to ‘steal’ and destroy so that he is disqualified.
The laugh was on this latter when they protested against his filing the forms, claiming his forms had been stolen, prompting the returning officer to ask with a bemused smile, ‘How do you know?’
These, and many more, constitute the kind of dishonourable cat-and-mouse games in which our ‘politicians’ engage, so full of dishonesty it makes one wonder just what politics means to them. It is a free-for-all in which the cunning and crafty is prized over the serene and serious, and the charlatan trumps the charitable. That anyone can hope that these characters of a shoddy morality will actually make the country move forward is like expecting to extract blood from a cactus.
At election time like these, people set out to do each other in, not to compete honestly. That is why every election season is a time of heightened tension, when some people actually trek from their homes to neighbouring countries and stay there till the elections are over.
Indeed, in many countries where civil wars have broken out, it is usually observed red that the trigger was a stolen election in which trickery and treachery were the favoured tools deployed by ‘politicians’ and their acolytes.