Can the political opposition realistically hope to mount a credible challenge to the domination enjoyed by the ruling CCM for a number of decades, or are we poised to witness same-old-same-old? A few things have been happening which suggest there could be changes.
On CCM’s side nothing has changed, and John Pombe Magufuli is almost certain to be returned for his second and final term after his party’s electoral congress gave him 100 percent victory in a one-horse race. No one had expected any other member to challenge him, and that was in keeping with hallowed tradition.
The opposition, for its part, has been experiencing a number of convulsions as well as a few seismic occurrences, though we may have to await the launching of the campaigns next month to start to gauge their true import. In a combined scene of revolving doors and musical chairs, Tanzanians have seen the departure from CCM of former Foreign minister Bernard Membe, who has now joined the fast-growing ACT-Wazalendo, and could be its presidential candidate come October.
Membe joins the same party that Zanzibar’s long-standing opposition kingpin, Seif Sharif Hamad joined a few weeks ago, and together they present a daunting electoral prospect if one is a CCM strategist. Whereas Membe is not considered to possess the requisite gravitas to shake Magufuli in an open contest, his pluck and derring-do have singled him out as some daredevil for wanting initially to challenge Magufuli within CCM.
Now that he is in the opposition and with ambitions to run for president, the issue comes up of who between Membe and a candidate from the main opposition Chadema will be fronted by the opposition to face off with Magufuli. Among the aspirants within Chadema are its chairman Freeman Mbowe, and Tundi Lissu, the opposition member of parliament who was hit with 16 bullets three years ago but has lived to tell the story. To date, no one has been arrested or charged with his attempted murder.
Both parties, ACT and Chadema, have yet to conclude their internal nomination protocols, so neither has named a presidential candidate, but sources within the two formations suggest that if Lissu is chosen by his party as the flag-bearer, ACT would not have issues with supporting him. It’s still early days, but it won’t be too long before we know how the opposition is planning to give CCM some value for its money.
Now, on the islands of Zanzibar a wholly different ballgame is unveiling, and it may be here that the stakes are significantly high. Seif Sharif Hamad has been the thorn in the flesh of CCM in Zanzibar since the 1990s, and state organs, including the electoral commission in the Isles and the registrar of political parties, have shown obvious bias against him. Each successive election in the Isles has been marred by irregularities and Seiff has claimed he was robbed.
This time round, in a move seen by some Zanzibaris as unwarranted Mainland intervention in the designation of Zanzibar’s leaders, the CCM electoral conference in Dodoma, with numbers heavily tilted in favour of delegates from the Mainland, has chosen Dr Hussein Ally Hassan Mwinyi, son to the former president, as its candidate. This has not gone too well with the Zanzibaris in the same party, and that could hurt the younger Mwinyi come October.
For historical reasons, all eyes will be on Zanzibar, because elections there have always been volatile and the dissensions between the bigger island of Unguja and the smaller one of Pemba have always been bitter. Seiff, who hails from Pemba, has complained of discrimination practiced by politicians in Ugunja against Pembans, and has said that although traditionally he has interceded with the youths every time they wanted to take the law into their hands, this time round he would not.
One would hope that it would not get to the point where violence erupts, anywhere in the United Republic, but especially in Zanzibar. In 2001, during Benjamin Mkapa’s presidency, riots broke out in Zanzibar because of electoral dissatisfaction; scores of people were gunned down, and some became refugees in Kenya, the first time Tanzania had ever exported refugees.
There is little doubt that emotions will be running high and that acts of violence could disfigure the electoral processes if the public perceives the exercise as being not fair. Tanzanians are generally a peaceable lot, but no one can tell when the proverbial last straw has been loaded onto the camel’s back.
Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]