Opinionista Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad 18 June 2020

Tanzania’s October elections will be neither free nor fair unless urgent reforms are introduced

The current landscape does not bode well for the upcoming Tanzanian elections. The nation is fractured, our people are suffering and the country’s institutions are rudderless. This is especially true of the National Electoral Commission and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, both of which are being run in a way that does not inspire confidence for October.

On 25 October 2020, Tanzanians will head to the polls to elect the President of the United Republic, President of Zanzibar, Members of Parliament, Members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives and Councillors.

It is of vital importance that these elections be conducted in an environment of justice, freedom and transparency. Our country and its people cannot afford an election that breeds violence, hatred and chaos. Election 2020 should leave Tanzanians both happy and hopeful as they exercise their constitutional right to elect the leaders they want to lead them for the next five years.

Unfortunately, the current landscape does not bode well for the upcoming elections. The nation is fractured, our people are suffering and the country’s institutions are rudderless. This is especially true of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), both of which are being run in a way that does not inspire confidence for October.

A number of factors must be urgently addressed in order to ensure that the basic foundations exist for a free and fair election.

Firstly, both NEC and ZEC should be independent electoral commissions and not presidential commissions. Currently, the NEC and ZEC chairpersons, commissioners and directors of elections are all handpicked by the President of Tanzania and President of Zanzibar respectively. Emergency bills should be brought to parliament and the house of representatives in Zanzibar to change the Tanzania Union and Zanzibar constitutions to enable the selection of all these posts by an independent body. The same bills should enable the results of the presidential election to be contested in court.

Secondly, we cannot afford a repeat of the illegitimate 2019 local government, village and suburban elections. As a matter of urgency, both the NEC and ZEC need to present a plan on how the issues experienced in November 2019 can be avoided, drawing on the input and experiences of stakeholders.

In Zanzibar, thousands of Zanzibar citizens are being deprived of their right to vote as a result of a clearly flawed ZEC registration process. The total number of voters registered in Zanzibar now stands at 448,482, a decrease of 55,300 from the 503,782 voters registered in 2015. In two regions of Pemba 35,499 citizens have recently been disenfranchised and it is estimated that no less than 120,000 voters who have attained the age of 18 between 2015 and 2020 have been left unregistered after they were unable to secure Zanzibar ID documents. This clearly cannot stand if we expect free and fair elections to happen. All errors that have been made by the ZEC should be corrected immediately so that every Zanzibari can exercise his or her right to vote, even if this means conducting another wave of voter registration.

In addition, the ZEC is seeking to review both the number and boundaries of Zanzibar constituencies, wanting to reduce the number of constituencies from 54 to 50. The reduction will impact opposition strongholds in Pemba and the West districts of Unguja. This naked gerrymandering must cease. Any review of constituency boundaries and numbers should be undertaken after the election as part of a transparent, thorough and rational approach.

The police service is not a service in Tanzania. It is a force. A force intent on doing the governing party’s bidding, disrupting meetings and activities of opposition parties across the country. It is time for state entities – the police force, national security and revolutionary armed forces of Zanzibar – to recognise that they serve the state and its people, not one party.

Two weeks ago, the NEC began the process of reviewing and amending election regulations. The draft new regulations indicate that inviting international observers is discretionary. In addition, party agents will not be guaranteed to receive result slips after the electoral count has been concluded. It will be left to the discretion of the relevant election supervisor as to whether to allow a party agent to look at the results slip.

The elections will not be seen as legitimate if international observers are not allowed in the country and local observers are not supported. Local stakeholders should also be involved in the drawing up of election regulations to ensure that the basic requirements of free and fair elections are met in the polling stations where it counts the most.

The police service is not a service in Tanzania. It is a force. A force intent on doing the governing party’s bidding, disrupting meetings and activities of opposition parties across the country. It is time for state entities – the police force, national security and revolutionary armed forces of Zanzibar – to recognise that they serve the state and its people, not one party.

Public media outlets should be providing equitable coverage of all political parties. Currently, the TBC, ZBC, Daily News, Habari Leo (News Today) and Zanzibar Leo (Zanzibar Today) have become mouthpieces of the CCM, driving government propaganda. The media plays a vital role in ensuring free and fair elections. They should draw up regulations and guidelines to ensure equitable and fair coverage.

In volume three of its report reestablishing the multi-party system in 1992, the Nyalali Commission recommended the repeal of 40 oppressive laws as they would benefit the CCM and undermine opposition parties. Instead of repealing these laws, successive CCM governments have added to these laws which have caused substantial repression of opposition parties, opposition politicians, members of the media, civil society and religious groups who oppose the government. 

Parliament should prioritise emergency legislation aimed at repealing or amending these repressive laws to ensure an environment more conducive to free and fair elections.

Finally, the foundation of a constitutional state is an independent judiciary. Judicial independence is significantly compromised in Tanzania, particularly at the highest Court of Appeal which has been known to overturn brave and just decisions of judges and magistrates. There is no guarantee of a fair hearing by the courts in the event of an electoral dispute. Ahead of the election, the Chief Justice must commit publicly to the principle of an independent judiciary and provide the necessary assurance that all electoral disputes will be adjudged fairly and without prejudice.

Over the next few weeks, we will be working with other political parties and stakeholders to address the constraints on free and fair elections with a view to proposing more actionable solutions. There is sufficient time to prevent an electoral disaster that plunges our country into chaos and violence. It is now up to the relevant stakeholders and leaders to recognise their responsibility and to act. DM

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