Tanzanian Election Reforms Questioned: Will Future Elections Be Free and Fair?

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Tanzanian Parliament passed a new election law with presidential assent, but the reformed law largely regurgitated the old laws that condemned our democratic dispensation into a quagmire. All major snags of the replaced laws have been left intact, leaving many pundits wondering what the purpose of enacting new election laws was. This article examines the similarities and differences between the two laws and raises concerns about whether the 2024 and 2025 elections will meet international standards for being free, fair, and verifiable.

Election Laws Empower Civil Servants to Choose Our Leaders On Our Behalf!

The old elections law was most abused in the 2020 elections, more than in all elections since 1992 when the reintroduction of multiparty democracy was enacted. In all elections prior to 2020, there was an attempt to count votes and publish them in polling stations, and the bone of contention was in tallying the results but not in counting them. In the 2020 elections, there was no attempt to count the votes, let alone tally them!

I say so because the Independent National Electoral Commission of Tanzania (INEC) did everything possible to block opposition polling agents from carrying out their statutory mandate. Through civil servants in the name of District Executive Directors (DEDs) empowered by the repealed election law to supervise constituency elections, letters to authorize opposition polling agents to do their lawful job never came or were released too late. When they did, the police were around to prevent agents from reaching the polling stations.

The election commission rejected to award the tender of printing voting documents to an international firm that had won the tender. It did not follow the procurement act in re-awarding the tender to a local printing firm. The election materials did not have security marks as originally tendered, and the election of 2020 was wholesomely compromised even before one vote was cast! Interestingly, the office of CAG, which civil servants run, neither saw nor heard evil over violations of the Procurement Act!

Election material was distributed in a manner that left many unanswered questions. On the day of the elections, polling invigilators who doubled as civil servants were caught carrying cast votes in their handbags. All those ballots were precast full suit for the ruling party, CCM: vote for presidential, parliamentary, and ward!

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Indecent civil servants eager to keep CCM in power joined forces to choose leaders on our behalf! Constituent supervisors outwitted themselves to bar opposition candidates from elections, claiming they were not qualified because of the nitty-gritty of filling out application forms. It is imperative to note that no CCM candidate has ever been disqualified for filling out the forms. Only the opposition candidates were singled out for this!

Election supervisors’ decisions were made as if they were a law unto themselves. Besides, the affected parties were not afforded their rights to principles of natural justice. Election supervisors became opposition gatekeepers!

A few months before the elections, DEDs were summoned to the state house, and instructions on managing our elections were issued there because Hell broke loose after that meeting!

There was no attempt to bring transparency and accountability when CCM top officials urged voters to go home and wait for the results to be declared! Many pondered why CCM top Mandarins were eager to throw transparency and accountability off the bus.

Some of the results announced from constituencies were identical regardless of the number of registered voters in the constituencies. To date, we are still waiting for INEC to publish those declared results.

INEC is not legally required to publish polling station results, and this loophole permits to doctor results without incurring the wrath of accountability. Where there is no transparency presents an opportunity for foul play without facing the grave consequences of their iniquity.

Empowering Civil Servants to Loot Our Public Coffers!

By empowering civil servants to choose leaders on our behalf, our legislature has unwittingly greenlighted them to steal and run down the public service without remorse or fear of accosting the full gravity of the law.

Cases of civil servant looting are snowballing, and arraigning them in courts proves ineffective in stopping them. Either courts issue lenient sentencing and fines after receiving hefty bribes or ferret out for technicalities to let the accused free.

Being presidential appointees, the courts claim the senior civil servants were illegally arrested, so their rights to a fair hearing were doomed, and the best thing is to release them. Of concern is the billions they have stolen, and no orders have been issued to return them to the people of this nation. Essentially, the courts are unapologetic perpetrators of the theft of public resources.

Also Read: The 2024 Local Government Elections as a Precursor to the 2025 General Elections: What Can We Expect?

Since the civil servants are picking leaders on our behalf, it is no wonder that the elected officials refuse to fall hard upon them. Increasingly, it is becoming the birds of a feather flocking together, and nobody scratches anybody back unless he is looking for vendetta. Somehow, our lawmakers have created a place for refugees that can sustain themselves in the future with only one big problem: corruption disrupts the economy, injecting more poverty and pain into the powerless majority.

The Election Law Reforms That Were Not Done!

Any election law worthy of its name demands transparency and accountability as its leading lights. Regrettably, those two pillars have been ousted in this reformed law! Since civil servants are creatures of elected officials, they must be deemed biased and should not manage our elections.

Lawmakers fail to grasp that civil servants’ fate is intertwined with elected officials whose term of governance has expired. The stocks of civil servants are in the hands of the elected officials who employed them, mostly with presidential appointments unencumbered by the grits of the recruitment and interview process.

Nobody knows why the president has appointed those civil servants, and they should not masquerade as election officials in one gasp of air. Choices ought to be made: They are either development agents of social change or our election managers. Nobody should play both conflicting roles.

The politicization of civil servants by doling out power to determine the integrity of our elections corrupts the civil service and makes them vulnerable to the whims of elections. To behave professionally, civil servants must be removed from the intrigues of elections. Through election laws, we have removed the very qualification needed for civil servants: professionalism.

The civil service is structured today to be more answerable to the dictates of elections but ill-suited to act as a bulwark against surrendering to political machinery. The difference between politicians and civil servants was and still is a stringent requirement: the former is a slave to the next election, while the latter is a master of the next generation.

Catch up with A Critical Look at Tanzania’s Election Law Revisions: Is Fair Election a Distant Dream?

The civil service has been co-opted by politicians and reduced to a rubber stamp of the dictates of the next election rather than maintaining her vanguard stature of the next generation.

The first thing I anticipated the revised elections law would have done was remove civil servants from our elections. We need other Tanzanians who are not active in the employment of the government or political parties to manage our elections.

The second thing we were looking forward to was the independence of INEC in substance, but we were given a raw deal when that was only given in nomenclature. The idea of hailing INEC nominally was once floated in 2015 by Justice Hon. Damian Lubuva, the NEC chairman. He blurted that:…. we can call NEC (now INEC) “...Tume huru ya uchaguzi….tutakuwa tumewaridhisha wale wanaodai tume huru ya uchaguzi….” When I heard him on TV, I thought it was a sick joke until I read the draft amended law when I knew the height of ignorance knows no boundaries.

INEC’s independence will never come from bragging rights but from the selection and composition of the commissioners and how it is carrying out its mandate. Previously, I had proposed that identifying stakeholders in our elections is a golden key to settling this matter once and for all.

As currently constituted, INEC appears to favour CCM in the election process heavily. Effective legislation should recognize multiparty democracy by ensuring all political actors are included in INEC’s decision-making. Relying solely on CCM does not represent true multiparty democracy, and having judges select INEC commissioners is highly questionable.

Our constitutional order says there will be a doctrine of separation of powers between the judiciary, the Parliament and the executive. Hiring judges or anyone in the Parliament to be part and parcel of the INEC selection Committee is a serious violation of the doctrine of the aforementioned separation of powers.

The idea of disenfranchising voters through the INEC selection committee was embedded in the Warioba disastrous constitutional proposals. The idea was as nefarious yesterday as it is today because it infringes on the doctrine of separation of powers. This country belongs to all of us, and not everything must be done by them.

The overlooked issue has always been the influence of a select few in Tanzania. The selection committee and INEC must embrace the diversity that reflects our national identity: CCM alone does not represent Tanzania. We need all facets of our society included in the election process. The election law has perpetuated elitism, which has hindered us since independence.

My previous recommendations, which remain relevant, suggest that the election law should specify that each registered political party elect one ordinary member who has not been employed by the government in the past ten years or holds any position in the political party to represent that party in the INEC selection committee.

I keep proposing to eliminate the element of the “status quo” that drives our election process. Let average Tanzanians who capture our national identity manage the elections on our behalf. Diversity, not elitism, should be a chief criterion to ensure our elections are always free, fair, and verifiable.

Transparency demands technology input to transport election results in a public portal where everybody can monitor them rather than affording security apparatchiks to interfere with the will of the voters by rewriting or forging election forms to flip the elections in favour of CCM.

Days of waiting for results for more than two days, citing the country is big, and the road network is poor, make no sense in the epoch of the information age. Results should be known within a few hours after closing the last polling station. This election law will not improve the availability of results sooner after the election is over. The law is intentionally mum to afford election riggers at least two weeks to cover their murky tracks.

If there is any lesson from the 2020 elections, efforts to rig results to benefit the then-incumbent President John Pombe Magufuli ended up not rewarding him with a five-year term but a mere five months; he was no more. Let us glorify God not only when it is convenient but at all times, even when facing temptations and challenges.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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