It has been more than a month since a widely controversial presidential election in Tanzania that incumbent John Magufuli won in a landslide, and the country’s opposition parties are still in shock.
Along with Magufuli’s re-election, the massive victory achieved by the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) government in the legislative polls also held on October 28 virtually wiped out opposition representation in parliament, creating a de facto one-party government.
This has crippled the ability of opposition parties to influence the legislative process and leaves them without a major platform to express their views, as Magufuli has banned political activity outside of election season.
With little clarity on the next steps, many observers agree that the opposition’s future does not look bright.
The two main opposition parties, Chadema and the Alliance for Change and Transparency-Wazalendo (ACT-Wazalendo), have alleged irregularities and rejected the results, but with few obvious options available, some party members are are turned to litigation to try to voice their grievances. .
ACT- Wazalendo President Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad is leading a group of candidates in a case before the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which accuses the government of electoral misconduct.
Meanwhile, a loose alliance of activists and opposition figures is working to collect and verify evidence of election violence in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania in order to bring complaints to national courts and seek justice for them. alleged victims of abuse.
Yet, through these cross-party efforts, the rebellion shook Chadema’s unity after his main politicians chose to join parliament as special-seat MPs, against the party’s stance.
In the days following the elections, Chadema’s former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu sought diplomatic protection at the German ambassador’s residence and then left for Belgium, the country where he passed by. three years after surviving a 2017 assassination attempt in an unsolved case.
Lissu – who won 13% at the polls, compared to nearly 85% for Magufuli, according to official results – has pledged to continue to rally the international community to push for structural changes in Tanzania to ensure a level playing field. fair for all political parties.
Political analyst Rashid Abdallah described the departure of the opposition leader, 52, as “a blow to Chadema, especially if Lissu decides he cannot return to the country for many years”.
“The party will have a hard time finding an influential figure like Lissu,” Abdallah said. “Maybe they should start preparing one now because at the moment they hardly have a politician that people could rally behind like they did with Lissu.
Meanwhile, in the Zanzibar Archipelago, ACT-Wazalendo leaders have declared their intention to join the CCM and form a Government of National Unity (GNU), despite their previous statement that the CCM government in power is illegitimate.
The GNU is a constitutional provision that invites representatives of losing parties to join government if their share of the vote exceeds a 10% threshold.
The move drew sharp criticism on social media from their supporters and those of other parties, with some accusing ACT-Wazalendo leaders of betraying victims of election violence by prioritizing their political interests personal.
Opposition members alleged that at least a dozen people were killed and many injured in the election-related violence, adding that dozens of opposition supporters remain in police custody and fate of the others remained unknown.
The violence has likely left many intimidated, while the alleged rigging also appears to have disappointed and demotivated many opposition supporters in a country where the CCM – along with its predecessor, the African National Union Party of Tanganyika – is in power without interruption since independence. in 1961. In fact, only 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on election day, perhaps indicating a broader sense of disillusion or futility with the exercise.
The election results are also a source of financial difficulties for the opposition. Parties receive funding based on the proportion of seats they hold in Parliament.
In recent years many of the opposition’s main sources of income have dried up, and now subsidies will also slow down.
Yet the uncertainty facing the Tanzanian opposition is unlikely to disturb the country’s leadership.
At a public rally in northwest Tanzania in 2018, Magufuli told the crowd that entertaining the politics of pluralism will only delay his development plans, saying development does not belong to any political party.
Last July, when the new National Election Commission building opened, Magufuli joked that if the opposition just supported him as president, the money saved on the election could be spent on the country’s development. .
In this context, observers believe that the return of the opposition parties seems far away – and some even suggest that their fate depends more on the authorities than themselves.
“The return of the opposition largely depends on the government’s decision to create a level playing field,” Abdallah said. “Otherwise, the only time the opposition could return to the scene is near the next elections in 2025, just as the authorities only allowed the opposition to freely conduct their political activities a few months before the last elections.”
Abdallah added that the only seemingly realistic chance for the opposition to rebound lies in reforming the existing political system.
“The problem is not the opposition. The problem is the Tanzanian political system, which is not pro-opposition. Therefore, if there is no change in the Tanzanian political system, the opposition will never have a voice, as it always has been, ”he said.
As the country prepared to move to multiparty politics three decades ago, a commission was formed to investigate and advise on the changes needed to increase the chances of a successful transition.
The Nyalali Commission, as it is known, recommended, among other suggestions, to repeal the constitution, restrict presidential powers, and form an independent electoral body.
Some 30 years later, the president, who is president of the ruling party, still holds the right to form the electoral commission, while the constitution prohibits a losing party from challenging presidential results in a local court.
The regional team of election observers, Tanzania Election Watch, denounced the remnants of this political infrastructure, with observers pointing to the use of repressive laws and institutions to restrict the opposition’s full participation in politics.
For example, changes to the Political Parties Act in 2019 allow the politically appointed Registrar of Political Parties to regulate political activity and apply criminal penalties for regulatory violations.
Professor Abdallah Safari, former vice-president of Chadema, believes that the opposition has no choice but to find ways to lobby for reform of the current political system if it is to have meaningful participation in politics. He said the opposition’s “best option” was to fight for an independent electoral commission.
“The results of the recently concluded election presented overwhelming evidence that now is the time for the opposition to come together and fight for an independent electoral commission,” he said, calling it “the best option. “of the opposition.