A Call for Change: Tweaking Women’s Special Seats in Tanzanian Parliament

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Women’s special seats in Parliament are a recognition of their unique societal role. Still, their representation in the decision-making organs is marginal, mainly because we live in a patriarchal society where male chauvinism runs high.

Past efforts to wax women’s representation in the Parliament were guided by an intention to mitigate the adverse effects of the “first past the post” electioneering process where the winner took everything, leaving losers feeling alienated, cheated and ostracised.

The “first past the post” election process led to the winner of the parliamentary seat who, for obvious reasons, did not win all the votes, taking all the votes for those who voted for the candidate and those who didn’t. Those votes tighten the grip of the political party the candidate hails in the Parliament, culminating in the skewed representation in the Parliament contrary to the actual votes the candidate had garnered!

To correct this anomaly of wasted votes, special women’s seats were repurposed to neutralize the votes misrepresentation caused by the first, the past, the post-election process.

After the election had captured the winners of the “first past the post” election process by apportioning parliamentary votes to each registered political party and comparing how many MPs each re-political party got, the adjustments followed.

In a fictitious example, NCCR-MAGEUZI got 15% of all cast votes but had 5% of the MPs in the Parliament. The “first the past the post” election process has shortchanged NCCR-MAGEUZI by 10%.

In the Parliament, the adjustment is carried out to ensure the proportion of NCCR-MAGEUZI MPs is nearly as close as possible to the votes collected in the election.

If the total number of MPs is, let’s say, 500, then the fair proportion of the NCCR-MAGEUZI was 15% of the 500, which comes down to 75 MPs since NCCR-MAGEUZI had only 5% of the total number of MPs who had won, which amounts to 25 MPs. So, the shortfall is 50 MPs who are provided special seats to NCCR-MAGEUZI by women to rectify the gap generated by the “first past the post” election process.

We laud this legislative effort because it made all votes duly cast and counted to impact allotting voices of the vanquished in the Parliament. The Labour Party of the UK inspired this system of equitable representation during the reign of the then Premier Tony Blair, who had carried out far-reaching election reforms targeting to capture the votes of the defeated candidates in the decision-making organs.

Years of applying this principle were, overall, beneficial. Still, we feel it can be bettered to ensure not only every vote counts and is accommodated in the decision-making process, but furthering women’s empowerment is also improved.

The Problem Defined and Analyzed

The experience has abundantly shown women representatives are in name only party leaders, and primarily, men can throw a spanner in the works to ensure their favourites romp into Parliament regardless of the women leaders who are required to choose them.

In a specific case study of CHADEMA after the shambolic election of 2020, 19 odd women leaders from BAWACHA (Baraza la Wanawake la Chadema) decided to name themselves and their closest allies to swoop the Chadema women special seats.

Whatever criteria they had used was up to BAWACHA to uphold or question, but due to the anomalies in the CHADEMA constitution, this matter was not solely the BAWACHA affair but the CHADEMA central committee where the secretary general was required to submit the list of the nominees to the registrar of the political parties!

It is instructive to note the CHADEMA central Committee is male-dominated, rendering the BAWACHA nomination decision subject to patriarchal subjugation, negating both the spirit and the intent of having women special seats. Women’s special seats are what they say, and men should have no leverage in patting the shoulders of the nominees lest men’s inclinations corrupt the process.

The second concern arises from the stigma accrued from assembling women’s representation in the Parliament. Whether we like it or not, the election of women being done by elites has diminished the substance of women’s representation in the Parliament.

It portrays those special women seats as if they are minor MPs, and there were vigorous debates in the Augusta House of whether they deserve to receive CDFs (Constituency Development Funds) because they have no conspicuous constituencies they represent, noting that the electorate in constituencies did not directly choose them.

The third problem is that the current process of choosing women representatives is at the discretion of political party bosses, and these representatives are forced to cave into the party bosses rather than deal perpendicularly with women’s issues. As a result, such representation looks more and more like an extension of patriarchal domination under the guises of women’s representation. Paradoxically, the current process strengthens the very problem the election of women attempts to address!

Resolving the Raised Anomalies

We strongly recommend abolishing the current system of picking female representatives. However, we are also aware of the need to make sure no votes are lost in our representative democracy.

Therefore, we urge the adoption of direct elections of women representation by women from every region after the general elections.

Here is our reasoning. Since the percentage of votes each political party gets is unknown before the general election, the election of women’s special seats must be carried out after the general election.

There will be a second election involving female members of each political party to pick their representative to mitigate the lost votes in the general election.

This is how it will be done in a hypothetical case:

A flashback to the 50 female representatives for NCCR-MAGEUZI: To fill those allocated seats, all candidates seeking those seats will be approved by the women’s wing of that political party. All registered women in this political country will vote for them. The first 50 to get the highest number of votes across the country in an election supervised by the NEC (National Election Commission) will be duly elected as women representatives for that political party.

A third of all parliamentary seats are allocated to women’s special seats. If, let’s say, directly elected MPs total 500, then a third of this number will be women’s special seats to boost the number of women in Parliament. And, that portion of seats is filled as recommended hereinabove.

Our observation of women’s input in the Parliament has been very positive, enriching debates with compassion, effeminate insight, and honesty rarely seen with us men despite impressing as colossal figures. The more women in the Parliament, the better for all of us.

You may also read A Critical Look at Tanzania’s Election Law Revisions: Is Fair Election a Distant Dream?

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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7 months ago

Our election law should allow a voter to cast a ‘negative’ vote. it means a vote rejects one candidate whom he dislikes most while he is neutral to all remaining candidates. theu you add up ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ votes of every candidate to get the net results.

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