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The forth coming set of General Elections: The most appropriate time for political rallies

THE banning of ‘endless’ political rallies by Union President John Magufuli in 2016, was strongly opposed by the Opposition political parties, and strongly supported by certain self-style zealots of ‘democracy’, who loudly cried foul.

Thus, in view of the forthcoming set of general elections that are scheduled to be held later this year and next year.

Today’s article has been designed to focus mainly on suggesting an answer to those negative reactions which accompanied the promulgation of the said ban; By presenting the stipulated Constitutional and legal perspective regarding this matter; In a spirited endeavour to convince those stakeholders who cried foul, that the most appropriate season for such rallies has now arrived; Which is the period that is designated by law as the “ campaign period” that precedes every general election and by-election, to be announced in due course by the National Electoral Commission in respect of the anticipated elections.

As the Holy Bible says in Ecclesiastes, 3.1–1-8: “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven”. Election time is the most appropriate season for political rallies.

The legality of Presidential O rd e rs Among the challengers of the President’s ban on ‘endless’ political rallies, was the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), of Catholic Bishops; who, in their statement that was quoted by MWANANCHI newspaper of Sunday, 11th February, 2018 in a news item that stated, in part, as follows:- “ Katika ujumbe wake, TEC imesema kuwa kuzuia mikutano ya hadhara ya vyama vya siasa, ni kwenda kinyume cha Katiba ya nchi”.

Its English translation would be: “ The Government’s action to impose a ban on political rallies by political parties, is unconstitutional”.

It is an indisputable fact that Presidential Orders, such as this one, are challengeable in the courts of competent jurisdiction; as happened in the case of Sheikh v The Regional Police Commander, Dar es Salaam and others (1985).

In that case, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania had made an order that the applicant should be deported to Zanzibar from Mainland Tanzania, under section 2 of the Deportation Act.

The applicant made an application in the nature of habeas corpus to the High Court, in which he challenged the President’s Order, on the ground that the President had exceeded his powers under the said law.

His application was indeed successful. However, the said Order by President Magufuli has not actually been challenged in court, so far. The politics of the ban imposed on political rallies It has been rightly said, that “ there are two sides to every coin”.

The constitutionality or otherwise of this matter is but only one side of the coin, and that is a professional area appropriately reserved for determination by the Judiciary.

We will, therefore, avoid trespassing on that land, and just confine our discussion to the ‘politics’ of the matter, which is the other side of the same coin.

My submission is that this ban on ‘endless’ political rallies and its condemnation by some stakeholders, together constitute one crucial lesson in political education which is well worth learning; This is because the incident raises the important political question of what is, or should be, the proper ‘role of political parties’ in the country’s governance system.

A proper understanding of this role will be achieved only through efforts being made to enhance the public’s knowledge and understanding of the basic principles governing this matter.

In that connection, the Tanzania Labour Party’s differing opinion provides a relevant ‘ case study’.

The TLP national Chairman, Agustino Lyatonga Mrema, also issued a statement (which was reported in the ‘DAILY NEWS’ of Tuesday, 28th June 2016), fully supporting the Government ban.

He said the following: -“ It should be understood that such political rallies are not the priorities of the people. The people out there want the provision of social amenities such as education, health, water and infrastructure, among others.

Hence, if the Opposition political leaders insist on never-ending politicking, it is obvious that the Government will not get enough time to fulfil the campaign pledges which they made to voters regarding these matters.”

Are political rallies an essential element in the functioning of political parties? The answer will depend, of course, on the respondent’s personal perspective.

The proper role of political parties Article 4 (1) of the country’s Constitution, is what makes provision for the lawful functioning of political parties in Tanzania; and their proper role is defined in the Political Parties Act, (no. 5 of 19192); which gives the following definition of a political party: “ Political party” means “ any organized group which is formed for the purpose of forming a Government, or Local Authority, within the United Republic through elections; or for putting up or supporting candidates to such elections.”

Thus, in the context of this definition, the primary purpose, or indeed the raison d’être of any political party in Tanzania is or should be, to participate in elections with a view to acquiring political power, both at the national and the local Authority levels.

The implied meaning of this provision is that any group of persons that do not adhere to these clearly articulated aims and objectives does not qualify to be registered as a political party.

It could perhaps be registered only as a ’society’, under the relevant law relating to the registration of societies. In other words, the primary role of any political party in Tanzania is to participate in elections whenever they are due.

“ Participating in elections”, of course, includes organizing campaign rallies all over the country, within a time frame which is normally determined by the National Electoral Commission.

This confirms what has stated above ( as a reminder to all those who ‘cried foul’ to the ban); that there are more appropriate times for such rallies to be organized and carried out. We have already referred to the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3.1 – 8 :

“ To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to kill, and a time to heal.

A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to break down, and a time to build up… etc .” Thus, if the ban on endless political rallies was their ‘time to mourn’; the forthcoming set of general elections should be their ‘ time to dance’, and dance to their hearts’ content.

Th is role appears to have been obscured The ‘rule book’ in the multiparty political culture, provides that “at the conclusion of a competitive general election (which is normally conducted through numerous campaign rallies countrywide), has finally determined the winners and the losers of that competition, political competition between them does not end there, it is only the venue of that competition which now ceases to be the open public rallies, and moves to Parliament House”.

But, alas, the absence of the requisite multi-party political culture has largely obscured this requirement; and not only here in Tanzania, but in practically every other country that inherited the British-based (Westminster), system of Parliamentary governance.

Examples abound around the Commonwealth to confirm this contention. For example, in October 2000; Dr the Hon. Keith Mitchell, MP, the then Prime Minister of Grenada in the Caribbean, lamented as follows:- “ The Caribbean people have long had a reputation for passionate partisan debate in the adversarial form of parliamentary democracy inherited from Westminster.

But they also enjoyed the reputation for playing by the rules: the winners of the arguments took office, and the losers continued the debate from the Opposition benches inside Parliament and prepared for the next election.

But today, passionate political debates are being continued, in an alarming number of cases, not in Parliament, but in the streets. And they are being pressed not by debate, but by demonstrations.

Our acceptance of the parliamentary system is being seriously eroded”. As can be seen, the demands for endless political rallies outside of the election period, (when political arguments should have transferred from the public arena to Parliament House, thus continuing the debate from the opposition benches inside Parliament); the Opposition parties were, in effect, demanding the right to “ press their arguments by demonstration, instead of by debate inside Parliament”.

Thus “seriously eroding our acceptance of the Parliamentary system of governance”. It is therefore submitted that efforts should be made to remedy the situation and that President Magufuli’s ban on such endless political rallies was intended to contribute to these efforts.

Political parties are the essence of Parliamentary democracy It should also be noted, and appreciated, that in the British-based parliamentary system of governance which we inherited at the time of independence, political parties are the essence of parliamentary democracy; in the sense that the party which wins a majority of the parliamentary seats at the relevant general election gets the right to form the Government of the day and that the losers also get their right to participate effectively in the decision-making processes of Parliament; by establishing mechanisms which guarantee them such effective participation. Such mechanisms include the establishment of the institution known in parliamentary parlance as “the Official Opposition”.

This ‘Official Opposition’ is an institution of vital importance because it enables the country’s citizens to retain effective control over their Government, by making those who are in authority to account for their stewardship.

According to the multi-party ‘rule book’, the main responsibility for ensuring that the policies and actions of the Government are subjected to constant challenge, is vested in this institution; whose primary functions, according to the multi-party ‘ rule book’, can be listed as follows:-

(a) to secure continuous accountability by the Government of the day, in the performance of its duties and functions. In respect of this function, the Official opposition is expected to examine all Government proposals very carefully, to probe into the Governments performance, to criticize as may be appropriate and necessary; and to present its considered comments and observations.

(b) To act as the alternative Government in waiting. It is no secret that the underlying objective of the Official Opposition in Parliament is to acquire power at the next, or subsequent general election.

Hence, it is expected to perform its functions largely with that basic purpose in mind. It is therefore bound to be constructive and responsible, in order to be seen by the voters as being really worthy of becoming the next Government.

(c ) To cooperate with the Government of the day, in ensuring the smooth operations of the day-to-day business of Parliament.

But, of course, in order for this cooperation to be meaningful, the Opposition must accept that the Government has valid duties to perform, plus a programme to be completed.

And, on its part, the Government must also accept that the Opposition has a positive constitutional role to play, and must, therefore, be enabled to play that role, without any undue encumbrances.

A proper understanding of these rules that govern multi-party politics in the Parliamentary system of governance, plus a genuine willingness to observe them; is what will ensure the growth, and healthy sustenance, of our cherished parliamentary system of governance.

piomsekwa@ gmail.com / 0 7 5 4 7 6 7 5 7 6 .

Author: Pius Msekwa


  • avatar
    George Martin

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