Saturday, October 24, 2015

Presidential candidates united in 'change'.

The main question that has been preoccupying the minds of Tanzanians in the past two months of pre-election campaigning is who will be the president of Tanzania following general elections scheduled for tomorrow.

The ‘presidency’ has obviously overshadowed other contested political posts, namely parliamentary and civic, despite their direct connection with the public in question.  This is because the mainstream public believes in the power of the president over that of the government and other structures he leads and oversees. The constitutional powers endowed to the president have led into the belief that they could dictate the system because they are superior to the state, reminiscent of a monarch.

 It would be recalled that presidential powers was one of the main articles which divided the Constituent Assembly last year, with one faction backing the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) who were opposed to the proposal contained in the Draft Constitution that reduced the powers of the president, and the supporting bloc, mainly from the opposition, that would later form a Coalition of Defenders of a People’s Constitution, known as Ukawa.

The molders of the would-be new constitution had however foreseen the role of the controversial proposal on the presidential institution in the pre-election campaign that marks its finale today. They had studied the mindset and the psychology of the electorate to use the ulterior sentimental loophole among the public in understanding the nature of the presidential institution.

Come July, following the parliament’s dissolution, the countdown to the general election would immediately start, with political parties engaging themselves in looking for presidential flag-bearers. With activities in two major political parties of CCM and Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) in the new robe of  the Ukawa marriage of convenience involving three other parties, namely the Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi and the National League for Democracy (NLD),  attracting more public attention than any other political event in the country.

 The situation was especially interesting within CCM circles as it raised the nation’s eyebrows when 42 party members from all walks of life, including semi-illiterate farmers, collected presidential nomination forms.  It was the beginning of the party’s covert election campaign to impress  the potential voters that CCM really meant business in going democratic. It was a successful endeavour that attracted mostly an undecided public into sympathizing with the party, overshadowing and distracting public attention from the recently trumpeted political developments within Ukawa. 

Former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Monduli constituency Edward Lowassa had his star shining the brightest among the then contenders, having garnered support from the party’s high echelons down to bodaboda motor-bikers. He was admired by the once politically-indifferent members of the society and even by some of the opposition sympathisers. He had become a force to reckon with, keeping the opposition camp self-assigned to 24-seven attempts to solve the mysterious puzzle detrimental to their political course. Ukawa was short of a matching icon.

But his popular rating was not good news for the vast portion of his party’s cream that they  allegedly killed his endeavour at its puberty just when he was about to cross the CCM ‘royal’ court chambers for judgment. Justification for his premature removal from the list of contenders was not convincing to his sympathizers, given the obvious popular support he had enjoyed.

To the most desperate social strata he was the awaited Messiah and saviour king who was nearly impaled out of betrayal from the party’s insiders, a plot allegedly masterminded by the party’s chairman, President Jakaya Kikwete. 
It was an axe that was bitterly condemned, even by some members of the party’s top brass including political guru Kingunge Ngobale-Mwiru, a man who had been hand- in-glove with the Father of the Nation, Julius Nyerere, since 1954 when the party that fought for independence of the country, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), a predecessor to CCM, was founded.

The man who was reputed as the party’s think-tank and a zealous stalwart was the first to go public, accusing the leadership of violating the party’s constitution by ignoring the popular sentiment , a day after Lowassa had been cast out of the list of the potential presidential contenders.

It was a move that caused a split within the party, putting its leadership in a dilemma over whether to mould the once low-profiled Minister for Works John Magufuli, who suddenly turned into a contender for the nation’s top job into a popular figure reminiscent of the fallen Lowassa or concede failure to let the party face an armchair demise as its popular rating had sharply plunged into unfathomed depths.

They resorted to the former option by portraying a picture of a “corruption-free man of action” in the person of Magufuli, as opposed to Lowassa who had allegedly “failed his prime ministerial post in connection with the Richmond corruption scandal,” the would-be thorn in his flesh in his later campaign moves.

But while the ruling party was occupied with mending its fences using the Magufuli image, Ukawa was taking advantage of the beleaguered Lowassa in courting him to their side. They needed the former ‘bad boy’ now than ever before as he was then loaded with potential multitude of voters to boost the declining Ukawa’s popularity amid internal wrangling over appropriate presidential flag bearer among the two prominent figures, namely Chadema’s secretary general Dr Wilbroad Slaa and CUF’s chairman Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba.  None of the duo was willing to forfeit the seat for another, let alone letting it free for alien Lowassa in case he decided to join the opposition. 

The failed negotiations within Ukawa, however, led to Lowassa boarding the opposition train and departure of the duo from the parties they founded almost simultaneously.

But there was almost a three-week span of uncertainty as to Lowassa’s next move after being forsaken by CCM amid speculation that he might join the opposition. It was the time that hundreds of his supporters had crossed over to the opposition, calling on their icon to follow suit.

But Lowassa was still preparing the way amid fears that he might be ‘annihilated’ before reaching the Ukawa destination. He wanted CCM to leave him in peace while in a fight against it outside its folds. He wanted to leave a legacy in CCM that would guarantee his protection while out there. These would include  influential figures in CCM and its government who would later join him in the opposition camp and others stay behind to accomplish a secret mission from within.

A Lowassa family insider said off record three days prior to his official declaration that he had joined Chadema,  saying “(Lowassa) wants to make sure his life and wealth are in safe custody before he quits…  he’s scared he might become another Sokoine, but he says he’ll join Ukawa this week.”

No sooner had he joined Ukawa than Dr Slaa went live to smear Lowassa’s personality, creating public agenda that threatened his popularity. But Bishop Josephat Gwajima, head of the Glory of Christ Tanzanian Church, immediately came to his aide to  break Slaa’s mudslinging campaign into tatters dismissing his allegations  as groundless.

As the campaign unfolded as of August 22, the public witnessed an exodus of the figures that mattered a lot in the ruling party to back Lowassa in the opposition. They include former Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye, former Deputy Interior Minister Lawrence Masha  and Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru, all equipped to pour scorn on their former party. 

Magufuli too had to adopt new techniques in his campaign, borrowing leafs from Chadema’s campaign book of slogans like M4C that was manipulated into “Magufuli for Change” from Chadema’s “Movement for Change” and hand gestures and symbols that implied “changes” and “victory,” respectively.

This was not a coincidence as Magufuli had since the start of the campaign attempted to distance himself from his party, the opposition believed it had lost its credibility. His campaign suggested that he should be voted as “Magufuli” as person who can bring “changes” (in the party and the government), technically dissociating himself from his party.

The two camps were united in the term “change” in their campaign endeavours.  It was neither a coincidence since it is a reflection of the society in which they operate. It is a proof that the society is in need of changes regardless of the political alignment. It is a proof that the ruled are protesting the old ways of being governed, apparently disabling the rulers who stick on ruling in the old fashion.

Therefore, it is equally true that whoever wins tomorrow’s election has to quench the public thirst for change.  If CCM emerges the winner then it has to undergo serious reform to suit the public mood, but if it is Chadema (Ukawa)  then it has to commit itself to seeking change of the constitution to do away with the current CCM-friendly mother of laws.
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