Dar es Salaam
Opposition political parties in Tanzania are beginning to find their voice again after being almost totally silenced over the last five years.
A few months after he was sworn in for his first term in office in 2015, former President John Pombe Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, banned opposition parties from conducting political activities until the next elections, which were held in October 2020.
The order, which was zealously enforced by the police force and regional and district administrators, effectively paralysed Tanzania’s opposition parties which normally depend on public meetings to rally grassroots support.
A number of party officials were arrested after they were accused of defying the order.
However, with the demise of Dr Magufuli in March, the opposition has started to enjoy the kind of freedom they last tasted in the run-up to the 2015 elections.
Dr Magufuli’s successor, President Samia Suluhu, reached out to opposition parties in April when she promised to meet with them and discuss how best they can conduct political activities for the benefit of the country.
During the recent by-election in Muhambwe Constituency in Kigoma Region, which the ruling CCM won, opposition parties which contested for the seat said the vote was free and fair.
Indeed, opposition parties are now conducting political activities without the fear of their leaders being arrested and locked up as was the case for nearly five years since early 2016.
For instance, Chadema is currently holding internal meetings countrywide with an eye on the 2025 elections.
On the other hand, ACT-Wazalendo is strengthening itself at the grassroots by building the necessary structures at the village and district levels.
Some breathing space
The party’s leader Zitto Kabwe told The Citizen Sunday that the political situation in the country is basically unchanged, although there are some improvements in some basic freedoms.
“Yes, there is a new president who has created some breathing space on matters of fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech and the media regaining some freedom. Opposition parties are now freer to meet. However, obstacles to democracy still exist in the form of electoral laws and the Political Parties Act,” he noted.
Mr Kabwe said the party welcomes the opening up of civic space, and would work to ensure that legislative changes follow.
“Our utmost priority is the formation of an independent election commission and a review of the Political Parties Act by removing provisions that essentially criminalise politics. We are working towards that goal through the Tanzania Centre for Democracy, which is a platform that brings together all parties with representatives in Parliament,” he said.
The party’s participation in the by-elections in Muhambwe and Buhigwe as well as in five wards has shown that Tanzanians are ready to embrace change despite the existence of a toxic political environment in the last five years.
“It is the objective of ACT-Wazalendo to work together with other stakeholders to rebuild Tanzanian democracy and make it a resilient one. Our mind-set is that of 1992 when parties were allowed for the first time,” Mr Kabwe added.
“Our number one priority is the Political Parties Act and the electoral law so that we can finally have a truly independent electoral commission. The other thing which is a national agenda is the Constitution,” he said.
The Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC) said it was making final preparations for a countrywide tour during which it will conduct internal meetings and public rallies meant to recruit new members.
ADC national chairman Hamad Rashid Mohamed said Sunday that the party’s executive committee is pleased with the current political situation.
“We are happy that President Hassan wants to meet with us to deliberate on better means of doing politics in the country. Our executive committees asks that she does this as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Mohammed urged opposition parties to come up with a common agenda that would be presented during their meeting with President Suluhu.
“I understand that every party has its own agenda and priorities, but it is also important to put our agenda together and present them to President Hassan,” he said.
The parties, according to him, can meet under the political parties’ council through the Registrar of Political Parties’ office and discuss what to raise during the meeting.