Tanzania: Opposition parties to sue Government over civic polls

Nairobi - Tanzania's major opposition political parties are going to court to seek an injunction restraining the government from proceeding with this year's civic elections, slated for November 2004.

The parties accuse the government of conniving with the ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), to give it victory on a silver platter even before a single vote is cast, the bone of contention being the way the voters' register has been compiled.

The three parties planning the suit are the Civic United Front (CUF), Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) and the Tanzania Labour Party (TLP). CUF chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, Chadema vice chairman Dr Amani Walid Kabourou, and TLP acting secretary general Hamad Tao told The EastAfrican in separate interviews in Dar es Salaam last week that the registration exercise was "so ridiculous" it was "an insult to the collective intelligence of wananchi."

Said Prof Lipumba, "We are consulting our lawyers on how to seek an injunction to stop the government from going ahead with the election. Further, we are going to ask the courts to nullify the just ended registration exercise." The local government voter registration, which left out thousands of people, ended on September 6. The exercise was supposed to have been conducted from house to house, but hundreds of people report having not been visited by registration officers.

Both Dr Kabourou and Mr Tao, echoed Prof Lipumba's sentiments. "Our policy is to participate while protesting. I have just heard that our people in Kigoma (Chadema's stronghold in western Tanzania) are going to court there, but we are definitely not going to boycott the election," said Dr Kabourou.

He said that, in a country with 18 registered political parties, even if those with bigger followings stayed out, CCM could easily persuade several small parties to take part to make it look like it was a democratic multiparty election.

"We intend to use all the legal channels available to stop CCM from hijacking the election, but if we have to, we will participate while protesting so as to salvage whatever they have failed to damage by this undemocratic registration process," said Dr Kabourou.

Prof Lipumba accused the government of reneging on three main points agreed upon in a consultative meeting convened by the government in Dodoma from April 17-18 to deliberate on the civic elections.

Participants were chairmen and secretaries general of all the registered parties in the country, with CCM represented by long time cadre and political ideologue Paulo Sozigwa. It was chaired by the respected Judge Mark Bomani.

Prof Lipumba said it had been agreed in Dodoma that only one institution, the National Election Commission (NEC), which presently only concerns itself with parliamentary and presidential elections, should administer all elections in the country.

Civic elections are administered by the President's Office, under the Minister for Regional Administration and Local Governments.

He said the meeting noted that there were too many registers in the country, including party, local government and national voters' registers, which only served to confuse the people. At the time, the ruling party was conducting an exercise to update its members' register, and it was agreed that this should stop forthwith to avoid creating further confusion.

"It was further agreed that all elections thereafter not only be administered by NEC, but also that only one permanent voters' register be used," said Prof Lipumba. "We agreed, and penned our names to the final document, that if the permanent voters' register were not in place by this September, then this year's civic election should be postponed until the register was ready."

The third point on which the Dodoma meeting was in concurrence, according to the CUF chief, was that at the lower levels of village and street leadership, both party-sponsored and private candidates be allowed to contest. This, he said, was hotly contested by some delegates, but in the end all agreed that private candidates be allowed to contest to ensure a more broad-based grassroots participation. As the law stands today, only party-sponsored candidates can stand in any political election.

"Political parties are the most important stakeholders in the country's political life. I honestly cannot understand how anyone can ignore such a high level agreement. Huu ni uhuni mtupu (this is pure hooliganism)," said a clearly irate Prof Lipumba.

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