Those watching the American vice-presidential candidates’ debate a few nights ago could have been wondering what had happened when President Donald Trump and Joe Biden met a week or so ago. The contrast between the two events could not have been more dramatic, the levels of decorum more different.
When the principals met they looked like a pair of tempered ragamuffins squabbling over who moved my cheese or something, in the absence of any adult person to keep them from coming to blows. Quite an unseemly spectacle, especially for people of an age so advanced.
It may just be that the two camps respectively decided to put their best faces forward, trying to smile as much as they could and exchanging pleasantries even as they traded barbs and could not wholly mask their animus toward each other.
The ‘commentariat’ has been busy on both sides of the Atlantic offering analytics of who scored bigger, what questions were skirted around and what untruths were served up with smiling guile.
On the whole, however, the vice-presidential debate was a welcome departure from the Trump-Biden brawl, and any true American patriot must have been left feeling good about that performance.
Which makes me think about mine: In the midst of all the campaigns we are witnessing in which scores of people are crisscrossing the country vying to be president, vice-president, member of parliament or councilor, would it not have given us a chance to look at the candidates up close if public debates were organised in which all the postulants would be questioned, examined, weighed and adjudged on the strength of their articulation of the issues that are making them run?
As it stands, the main challenger to President John Magufuli, Tundu Lissu is banned from campaigning for a week because of some infraction against campaign rules, and meanwhile, Magufuli is taking a breather for some reason.
Maybe some campaigners need some respite after the blistering pace of the past one month or so. It is something Tanzania was not used to since after the 2015 elections when President Magufuli was elected and immediately declared an end to politics, banning public rallies.
He simply declared that such public rallies and demos were a waste of time, and that there was no time to waste because what the country needed was “development”. The opposition politicians who did not want to heed the diktat of the new president soon found themselves clobbered, arrested, detained in remand prison and making unending court appearances.
All that came to an abrupt end a month or so ago, when the campaigns were launched, and a new opening of political space was evident, particularly with the homecoming of Tundu Lissu, who had been living abroad since he was shot 16 times three years ago. After undergoing treatment and doing some political work on the outside, Lissu came back breathing fire, much as the Phoenix of antiquity would rise from its ashes.
Even then, it is clear that the contestants are not playing on a level field. President Magufuli appoints all the commissioners in the national electoral body, and more often than not he has been heard saying that he will not brook a situation where he appoints someone, pays him a good salary, gives him a good house and a good car, and who then goes to declare the victory of an opposition candidate in an election.
No wonder then that no less a person than Wilson Mahera, the director of the electoral commission, has been propagating the messages of the CCM presidential candidate, who is also President of the Republic, and warning opposition candidates against wasting people’s time with their ‘brah brah’(sic) and instead to embrace the programme Magufuli has elaborated for the country: roads, water, electricity, roads, in other words, ‘development’. Even the adjective ‘blatant’ does not begin to describe what is happening.
Thus far, as I write, the violent tendencies of some supporters have been muted, though a couple of deaths have been reported. As we go into the home run of the campaigns in the last week of this month, with the antes upped, the tempers could flare up if officials at every level do not take care to be seen trying to do the right thing and to give right where right is due. Even in the iniquitous constitutional, legal, and administrative idiosyncrasies governing these elections — I hope for the last time —level-headed people could do something about their comportment so as not to throw everything in the air.
Let us all take care to ensure that October 28 comes and goes smoothly, all the time recording all the grievances we have noted against the administrative authorities running the elections. They have shown their hand clearly, and there is very little claim they could ever had as to fairness. Let the people, the voters, stop them where they can, but let us not allow them to cause the irreparable.
The provocations have been immense, multiple and widespread. Still, I am called upon to make this call this morning, although I do not know exactly why.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]