Mr Chikawe: "We have only gone to court to protect the Constitution and not to oppose private candidacy." By Mkinga Mkinga 2009-10-17 THE CITIZEN The Government is not opposed to having independent candidates run for public office in local government and national elections, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mathias Chikawe says. Mr Chikawe told The Citizen that reports to the contrary were a distortion of the Government's real intentions in appealing against a High Court ruling in favour of the recognition of the right of independent candidates to contest civic, parliamentary and presidential elections. In an exclusive interview in his Dar es Salaam office, Mr Chikawe said no one in the Government felt threatened about the possibility of allowing individuals without political party affiliation to stand as independent candidates for election either as councillors, Members of Parliament or President. "The Government is not opposed to having private candidates as such. We have only gone to court to protect the Constitution," said Mr Chikawe. He was responding to growing public pressure for the Government to clear the way for individuals interested in running for office in forthcoming elections to stand as independents, if they do not wish to be sponsored by political parties. The latest call was made over a week ago in form of a resolution passed during a well-attended workshop on politics and governance held in Dar es Salaam. The delegates, who included representatives of opposition parties and academics, said the time had come for the country to embrace the idea of having private candidates in elections as a means to further enhance democracy. Representatives of civil society also attended the conference organised by Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania (REDET) of the University of Dar es Salaam. During the workshop, a member of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof Amon Chaligha, also endorsed the call for the inclusion of independent candidates. His argument that it was no longer feasible to keep out such candidates was well received. Prof Chaligha called for an amendment of the Constitution to formally endorse the participation of independent candidates. But during the interview, Minister Chikawe said that by going to court, the Government was only challenging the legality of the High Court ruling that would force constitutional changes. "We have only differed on a matter of constitutionality, where it's clearly stated that the President and Members of Parliament will come from among members of political parties," the Nachingwea MP said. "What I know is that the amending of the Constitution can only be done by Parliament," the Minister said. He added: "If the High Court is allowed to force amendments in parts of the Constitution, who will stop it from calling for a repeal of the whole Constitution? That is why, we in government, have appealed the decision." He added: "We don't fear private candidates. Why would anyone fear those who don't have the people behind them?" The minister said the matter should be left to the Court of Appeal to rule. It's generally believed that the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) fears that endorsing independent candidates would lead to the loss of its disgruntled more independent-minded members, who would refuse to toe the party line and still get a chance to run against those favoured by it. This, it is said, would weaken its hold on power. The Government has been accused of sneaking in an amendment on Section 21(1) of the Constitution by inserting the requirement for candidates to be sponsored by a political party, to circumvent the court's ruling in 1993 that first granted independent candidates the right to run for office. It is the same amendment that political reform campaigners and pressure groups now want removed, arguing that it contravenes the Bill of Rights. Democratic Party chairman Christopher Mtikila, who was the first person to go to court to challenge the ban on private candidates, has twice floored the Government, and has bragged that its Court of Appeal bid will also fail. The maverick cleric, who in February 2005, went to the High Court to seek the annulment of the law in question, a position that was upheld by a panel of three judges. They ruled in 2006 that the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to stand as private candidates in an election. Political observers have questioned why the Government, before "sneaking" in changes in Parliament, did not then mention that the court had no authority to change the Constitution. The ruling party has suffered most of the blame, accused of attempting to muzzle those that it fears among its own ranks by a law viewed as serving political expediency and its narrow interests. The party has denied the claim even though many of its officials are fervently opposed to calls to introduce independent candidates.