June 18, 2010, 12:30 p.m.
Tanzania will hold its fourth multi-party election in October of 2010. It is almost certain that President Jakaya Kikwete and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) will win an overwhelming victory. While the outcome is not in doubt, there are three important issues to watch: Zanzibar, campaign finance, and independent candidates. Each one has significant implications not only for future elections, but for the future of the country as well.
While CCM faces little competition on the mainland, its control of Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous archipelago, is not secure. Its main opposition on the islands is the Civic United Front (CUF). Tensions have been high between CCM and CUF since Tanzania’s first multiparty election in 1995, and CCM only maintains its control over the islands through coercion and repression. After years of frustrating negotiations, CCM and CUF leaders reached a power-sharing arrangement in 2009.
The most important questions surrounding the election are whether it will take place on time and whether the power-sharing arrangement will come into force. One of the conditions in the power-sharing arrangement is that voters must approve it in a referendum. CUF leaders question whether the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) has the capacity to run the referendum and the October election in such a short period of time. As a result, CUF leaders have asked to postpone the election until after the referendum. CCM leaders, by contrast, are opposed to postponing the election. In addition, while President Kikwete supports the power sharing arrangement, not all CCM leaders do. One faction argues that ceding power in Zanzibar could weaken CCM’s hegemony on the mainland. Another wing of the party does not support the arrangement because it fears that a unity government in Zanzibar will push for greater autonomy and perhaps independence for the islands. At this point it is not clear whether the referendum will occur before the election.
The second major issue to watch for in the election is whether the government will enforce a new campaign finance law. Passed in March 2010, the law requires full disclosure of campaign contributions, including how the funds will be spent at the time of the donation. The law does not place any limit on the amount of contributions. The government claims that one of the main purposes of the law is to limit the widespread practice of implicit vote-buying, whereby candidates give gifts and/or other material resources to voters. According to opposition parties, however, CCM passed the law in order to deter people from funding opposition parties and/or find out who is supporting them.
It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to enforce the law. While it requires that the Registrar of Political Parties (RPP) track campaign spending, whether the RPP has the resources to do so is far from clear, as it does not have field staff to monitor expenditures. Considering that political campaigns in Tanzania tend to consist of widespread rallies across the country, it appears that the RPP’s small staff will have great difficulty tracking campaign spending.
The third major issue is whether independent candidates will be able to stand for election. The High Court of Tanzania recently ruled that the country’s constitution does allow for independent candidates, and it ordered the government to let them stand in all future elections. The government has thus far not enacted the ruling. Rather, the government is appealing the ruling, claiming that the High Court does not have the jurisdiction to interpret the constitution. It appears likely that the court will reject the appeal, however. At this point it is not clear what will happen because even if the court upholds the verdict, it has no power to enforce it. That the government will openly defy the court remains a distinct possibility.
That CCM and President Kikewete will win the 2010 election is almost certain. Nevertheless, this does not mean the election is inconsequential. Rather, it centers around three very important questions. One, will the election in Zanzibar come on time, with a power sharing arrangement between CCM and CUF in place? Two, will the RPP be able to enforce the new campaign finance law and, if so, will it harm opposition parties more than CCM? Three, will the government openly defy the court’s order to permit independent candidates? The answer to each of the above questions has important implications for the future of Tanzania:
Barak Hoffman, Ph.D, is Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. He has extensive research and practitioner experience in foreign aid and maintains a blog at democracyandsociety.com.