The day of reckoning is drawing nigh for the political classes in Tanzania, and in approximately two months we shall have a more or less clear tableau of what the feverish electoral efforts have painted for us. On October 28 Tanzanians will flock to the polling stations to elect the president, members of parliament and district councillors.
It may sound strange to say this, but interest in this particular election is stoked by a couple of intriguing circumstances that have occupied the political space since the incumbent president, John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, took power five years ago, chief among them being the near-eclipse of Opposition parties from the public rostra.
In a bizarre development, the president’s word became law, and the law was that political leaders should carry out political activities only where they were elected, which would seem to mean that if you are a member of parliament your activity would be limited to your constituency, which in turn begs the question of where the national party leaders who are not MPs could practise their politics.
Opposition leaders who dared challenge this diktat were often arrested and charged with various offences, including making seditious statements.
Meanwhile, Magufuli, by virtue of being president, has had free rein to do his politicking everywhere he has been going, although it is always obvious that he is doing political campaigns for the ruling CCM, of which he doubles as chairman.
This has not daunted the Opposition overmuch. One principal of the Opposition has assured me that the Opposition is alive and kicking and is going to give Magufuli a run for his money.
He claimed that the president feared campaigns and that the two months of campaigns would be too much of a strain, physically, psychologically and emotionally, for him to handle. Another factor will be the mutation of revolving doors and musical chairs that has taken place since the Zanzibar veteran Opposition leader Seif Shariff Hamad threw in his lot with young, energetic and ambitious Zitto Kabwe of ACT-Wazalendo to use the hitherto tiny political outfit to challenge for the presidency of Zanzibar, which has gives Hamad a new political lease of life in the Isles and Zitto fresh impetus to become someone to reckon with on the mainland. The combination could be interesting, to say the least.
Between this week and mid-August, parties will complete their nominations, with the multitude of CCM aspirants jostling for nomination at constituency and council levels, if not at presidential level, which was exclusively set aside for one candidate.
The proliferation of candidacies at these subaltern levels may be an indication that CCM cadres feel that once you are nominated by the ruling party, winning the election in a lopsided playing field becomes a cakewalk. It may not be so, as tables could be overturned.
A few were upset this past week when the majority of erstwhile Opposition legislators who had been lured into CCM with promises of being returned on the petticoats of the ruling party — what the Kenyans have dubbed the ‘tanga-tanga’ squads — only to be rejected by internal ruling-party primaries, to the glee of their former comrades in the Opposition.
Still, the big elephant in the room here is the fate of Tundu Lissu, who has declared he is coming back to Tanzania this week from Belgium where he was undergoing medical treatment for three years after he escaped an assassination attempt in 2017. Undaunted by the brutal attack that perforated his lower limbs, he insists he is coming back to vie for the presidency as Chadema’s candidate, and, understandably, few people understand his thinking.
How a man who pulled off a Houdini-type escape only three years ago could be coming back to his attackers’ den, as it were to tempt the Devil, beats many people’s thinking, but Lissu has said over and over again that he is coming.
Now, those who tried to snuff his life out three years ago may be lying in wait for him with the intent to finish the job off and erase Lissu from the political grid of Tanzania for good, or tactics may have changed and a little tolerance is now seen as the way to go.
Whichever route is chosen; it is the authorities that will decide if we go down the route of blood or down the road of red petals.
This article was published by The East African.