Is democracy, political competition under threat in Tanzania? Tuesday, 31 August 2010 15:56 Is democracy, political competition under threat in Tanzania? BY BERNARD JAMES AND BERNARD LUGONGO There is a growing concern that the inability by opposition parties to field candidates for parliamentary and civic seats in many parts of the country could turn into a major barrier to competitive democracy in Tanzania. With the nomination of candidates for presidential, parliamentary and civic seats for the October General Election coming to an end, people are now questioning the practicality of introducing multi party democracy in Tanzania. Today, nearly two decades since Tanzania accepted a multi-party system of politics, major political parties such as the Civic United Front (CUF), Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), NCCR-Mageuzi and the Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) still lack the capability to field candidates in all the 332 constituencies and 3,600 wards across the country. This state of affairs has generated a debate on the significance of accepting competitive politics, through the multi party system of politics, and the future direction of competitive democracy in Tanzania. With exactly two months remaining before Tanzanians go to the polls, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi has already more than 20 MPs and an estimated 540 councillors who have sailed into office unopposed due to, among other reasons, failure by the Opposition to field candidates, or through the disqualification of candidates by electoral authorities. Political experts feel that this state of affairs, if not addressed, could have far reaching implications in the future of democracy in Tanzania and could render meaningless the very essence of establishing a multi party democracy. By introducing multipartism, many had hoped to see competitive politics growing year after a year thereby acting as a catalyst for fostering political as well as economic progress. However, the current situation might be proving that such hopes were misplaced. A party like Chadema, which many believed would mount a credible challenge in the October elections, has fielded only 182 (76 per cent of the total seats) out of the 236 parliamentary posts, and approximately 2,000 candidates for the civic posts. Those who believe in competitive politics find the statistics very disturbing and limiting for the electorate in Tanzania. Voice But Chademas acting secretary general John Mnyika says his party is not to blame for the trend, adding that he associated 80 per cent of that failure to acts of sabotage by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and corruption during elections. We have many cases which prove that NEC favours CCM In Ludewa Constituency, for instance, a returning officer rejected forms from our candidate without giving any good reasons. In Nyamagana Constituency, our candidate was also disqualified without any reasonable grounds, he lamented, adding that there were many such examples throughout the country. Mr Mnyika associates the remaining 20 per cent failure to corruption during nominations. Some candidates were bribed to quit the race, while others were bribed to disappear with nomination forms and emerge after the deadline had passed, he says. He cites as an example Musoma Rural where he claims his party has documented as well as oral evidence that their candidate was bribed not to return the nomination forms. What you see on the ground does not necessarily reflect what was actually taking place, he says. He accused electoral authorities, including NEC, for disqualifying some of the partys candidates over baseless objections filed by rivals. He alleged that some of its candidates were denied a chance to return the forms, while others were enticed by money to quit the race. Mr Mnyika, however, is optimistic that his party still has a big chance of forming the next government if it manages to get 51 per cent of the parliamentary seats. We have fielded candidates in areas we think we have higher chances of winning. We need only just over 50 per cent of the total number of MPs to form the next government, he said. TLPs deputy secretary general Hamad Tao said his party has fielded close to 70 parliamentary candidates as well as representatives for 1,000 wards. Unlike his Chadema counterpart, Mr Tao says the major factor preventing his party from fielding candidates in all constituencies and wards, is the huge expenses involved in the electoral activities. He says his party has not been receiving subsidies from the government to finance its election campaigns. He explains that the only option the party has is to direct its resources towards constituencies where the party is sure of performing well in the October elections. It is expensive to field candidates countrywide. The printing of brochures, meeting transport and advertising costs, and organising campaign rallies have proved to be too expensive for TLP. We are unable to manage the exercise due to lack of funds, Mr Tao confesses. He feels that the trend is a stumbling block that prevents certain parties from thriving in Tanzania, which is considered a multi party democracy. There are other factors that experts are also citing as major threats to competitive politics, apart from the inability by the opposition parties to field candidates in all constituencies. According to statistics, since 1995 when the first multi party elections were held, the percentage of votes given to the opposition parties presidential candidates compared to those received by CCM has sharply fallen in every subsequent elections. In 1995, for example, the opposition parties collected 40 per cent of the votes for the presidency, while in 2000 the figure dropped to 28 per cent. In 2005 the total number of votes for all opposition presidential candidates failed to go beyond 20 per cent. This trend points to a very serious problem with our electoral system. Either Wananchi or bodies entrusted to supervise democracy are not doing justice. Owing to such shortcomings, we need to find out why competitive politics is diminishing in Tanzania. There must be something going wrong with NEC or the Registrar of Political Parties, he said. The TLP leader, just like his Chadema counterpart, alleges that in some constituencies returning officers have disqualified candidates fielded by his party, in favour of CCM, for no apparent reasons. This is dangerous for democracy, he said. But CCM says that the opposition parties have no one to blame but themselves over the alleged barrier to competitive politics. This is more of a strategic issue. In the previous elections they (the Opposition) fielded more candidates than this year but they managed to secure a few seats, says CCMs deputy secretary for propaganda and publicity Tambwe Hizza. He says opposition parties should blame themselves for refusing to heed to suggestions by political strategists that they spend most of their resources and time popularising their parties at the grassroots to build strong political foundations rather than attempting to compete with CCM only during elections. He cited an example of the 2005 General Election in which CUF fielded candidates in almost all constituencies countrywide but failed to secure even a single seat. The main problem is that they (the Opposition) are not ready to tell the public that there is still no party capable of competing with CCM in elections, he said. He says CCM expects to face stiff opposition, from Chadema candidates, in not more than 10 constituencies and that other parties, including CUF, have not presented a single credible challenge in any constituency. My view is that CCM cannot provide therapy for leadership negligence and failure by the Opposition, he says. According to Tambwe, his party has done a lot in building capacity for the opposition parties to compete in elections. Initially they were not getting subsidies; but today the CCM government has approved subsidies for political parties. Their problem is that their politics only becomes active during elections time, he alleged. He alleged that the new arrangement of appointing Special Seats MPs in Parliament by looking at the proportion of votes a political party gets in the elections was another evidence that the CCM government values competitive politics in Tanzania. NCCR-Mageuzi, once the main opposition party, says its target was to field 100 parliamentary candidates but managed to field only 95. He failed to provide official statistics on the number of candidates for civic posts but said the party had initially planned to field 300 candidates. The problem is that the government has spoiled wananchi. Most wananchi think that elections provide the moment to harvest money from corrupt candidates. The truth is that there is no candidate, either from CCM or the Opposition, who would like to use money to clinch power. Opposition parties do not have money to bribe the electorate, he said.