Tanzania's CCM party drops graft-fighting speaker Thu Nov 11, 2010 * CCM says party wants female speaker * Sitta had encouraged graft debate in parliament * Seen as thorn in the side of CCM elite - analysts DAR ES SALAAM, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has blocked the country's influential speaker, Samuel Sitta, from seeking re-election on Friday in a sign of deepening rifts in the party. Political commentators said Sitta, whose name was dropped by the party from the list of candidates, had paid the price for encouraging debate on corruption in the national assembly. CCM secretary general Yusuf Makamba said gender was the deciding factor. "Sitta is a hard-working, courageous leader, but CCM has deliberately decided to give women a chance this time," he told a news conference late on Wednesday. Foreign donors and opposition leaders have fiercely criticised Kikwete's slow pace of reforms in the fight against corruption. While the moderate Muslim has pledged to do more to combat it, some observers say Kikwete's hands are tied by high-ranking, influential party members. "There are corrupt forces in CCM who (previously) tried to get Sitta expelled from the party and have now managed to remove him from his job," said one analyst who declined to be named. "He was seen as a thorn in their side for allowing debate on corruption allegations to be freely conducted in Parliament." Sitta, speaker of the assembly since 2005, was dropped from a list of 13 CCM members vying for the post less than a week after President Jakaya Kikwete was re-elected in a poll marred by claims of rigging and a record low turnout. Observers said Sitta was barred in favour of other candidates who would toe the party line and protect CCM's interests in parliament. Sitta presided over a parliamentary debate as speaker in 2008 that led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two other cabinet ministers over a $179 million energy contract awarded to a bogus company. CCM's central committee has now approved a shortlist of three names, all women. "For the past 49 years since independence, all the three pillars of the state - the executive, judiciary and legislature - in Tanzania have been led by men," Makamba said. The shortlisted candidates are former deputy speaker Anne Makinda, veteran politician and former head of CCM's women's wing, Anna Abdallah, and ex-member of the East African Legislative Assembly Kate Kamba. Former CCM lawmaker John Shibuda, now an opposition legislator, said he was shocked CCM had shunned Sitta and that many Tanzanians were disappointed. "I'm puzzled ... I don't know what CCM is trying to achieve. Perhaps they want a speaker who will protect the ruling party's position at all costs and look after the interests of a certain group of people within the party," said Shibuda. The opposition camp has appointed a Dar es Salaam-based lawyer and former member of the East African Legislative Assembly, Mabere Marando, to vie for the speaker's job.