Written by Tundu Lissu, IDU member CHADEMA’s National Vice Chairman, Dar es-Salaam, July 2020
On 25 October of this year, the people of Tanzania will go to the polls to elect the president, members of parliament and municipal governments all across the country. The general elections will be consequential for Tanzania and the Great Lakes Region of East and Central Africa. President John Magufuli from the ruling party CCM will be running for reelection. Against him will be opposition candidates led by IDU member CHADEMA, the largest opposition party in Tanzania.
Mr. Tundu Lissu, CHADEMA’s national vice chairman and a survivor of an assassination attempt in September 2017, is seeking the nomination as his party’s presidential candidate to face President Magufuli. There is every likelihood that the October general elections will neither be free, fair or credible. The entire election management institutions are appointed and tightly controlled by the President and his party and have always favoured CCM and its candidates. This year’s elections will not be any different.
There are, however, factors that make this year’s elections especially important. For five years of his rule, President Magufuli has prosecuted a war on democracy with unprecedented brutality. Opposition leaders and activists have been targeted for murder, torture, abductions and disappearances. Lawful political activities have been banned or severely restricted; civil liberties have been curtailed and media freedoms abrogated. The president has declared openly that he would like to see no political opposition in the country. He has also made known his wishes to remove presidential term limits so that he can continue to rule beyond the mandated two five-year terms.
Should he be re-elected in October, there’s no doubt that he will destroy our democracy and return the country to the dark days of single-party rule. Contrary to expectations, however, the political opposition, led by CHADEMA, is stronger than ever before. In the five years of prohibition of public meetings and gatherings, CHADEMA has quietly built an extensive network of party structures all over the country. Against all odds, CHADEMA was able to place 94% of candidates in aborted local elections in November of last year. The elections were aborted after election supervisors disqualified from the elections almost all CHADEMA and other opposition candidates.
In the forthcoming general election and against insurmountable obstacles, CHADEMA has recruited thousands of candidates for election as members of parliament and of the municipal and other local governments. In the presidential race, there are eleven candidates for the nomination as the party’s flagbearer. This overwhelming response is testimony to the optimism the party has that these general elections are winnable. For the elections to be won, however, we must first have candidates for all of the contested positions. That is to say, CHADEMA and other opposition candidates must be cleared by the National Election Commission to stand as candidates.
This is where the greatest and most immediate danger lies. Emboldened by last year’s success in removing all opposition candidates from the contest, President Magufuli and his party might try it again.
This is the one area where the greatest focus by the international community and election observers and monitors must be directed. Pressure should be brought to bear upon the Electoral Commission to clear the opposition candidates to stand.
The Commission and the government of Tanzania should not be left in any doubt that there will be severe consequences should the Commission disqualify opposition candidates en masse. Political violence, harassments and intimidation against opposition candidates, orchestrated or perpetrated by government security and intelligence operatives, is another area of greatest concern.
Pressure must be brought to bear on the government to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement and speech by opposition candidates. Tanzania law requires the police to provide security for all presidential candidates and to ensure security in all campaign meetings and events. The Tanzanian government should be held accountable to this standard.
In view of the unresolved attack and near killing of the CHADEMA vice chairman and potential presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections, it is imperative that all measures be taken to ensure his safe return to Tanzania and his security and freedom of movement while campaigning for the elections. There are many other areas of concern for the elections. These will continue to be raised and communicated to the Tanzanian people and to the international community in weeks and months ahead.