Observers ready, draft constitution circulating

Papers proclaim the start of voter registration. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

As Tanzania faces a constitutional referendum and general election in 2015,  papers proclaim the start of voter registration. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Slowly but surely, election preparations are lumbering forward as Tanzania heads toward the constitutional referendum on April 30 and the General Election in October.

And on February 23, one week from today, voter registration begins.

“Preparations are going on well,” says National Electoral Commission’s Julius Malaba; however some are skeptical that the new biometric voter registration (BVR) kits will be implemented in time.

“Many Tanzanians have not been educated on the BVR system, we need more time,” says Civic United Front (CUF) opposition leader Ibrahim Lipumba, noting that this is the first time this system has been used in Tanzania.

Tanzanians have had less than two months to familiarize themselves with the proposed constitution which has already stirred controversy.

Opposition party Chadema has threatened to block the draft, saying it was passed without quorum — the minimum number of assembly members present — in an assembly dominated by the ruling CCM party.

The proposed constitution has caused considerable friction on Zanzibar, with First Vice President Seif Hamad going so far as to say it was a “dirty game,” and that for Zanzibari’s, “the verdict is clear in the coming referendum: no.”

Hamad is also the secretary-general for opposition party CUF.

According to leaders of these parties, the draft constitution on which the Tanzanian electorate will cast votes is against the people’s wishes as contained in the original draft that was prepared by the Constitutional Review Commission

About 700,000 copies of the draft constitution have already been distributed in 12 regions of both Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, says Minister of Justice and Constitution affairs Asha-Rose Migiro.

Migiro says a total of two million copies are set to be handed out, with Zanzibar getting 200,000 and the remaining 1,800,000 for the mainland.

Each of the 3,800 wards in Tanzania will receive at least 300 copies, with the remainder set aside for political parties, civil societies, religious and educational institutions.

While opposition parties remain adamant that the proposed constitution is invalid, the document contains some of their proposals, including the establishment of an independent electoral commission and allowing — for the first time — legal challenges to presidential election results.

Among other things, the proposed constitution would also sets limits on how many cabinet ministers can be appointed by the president, introduces equal gender representation in parliament and gives women equal land ownership rights with men.

To monitor the progress of both the referendum and general election, the Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee (Temco), which received a $4 million USD grant, will deploy thousands of short and long term observers.

“We want to assess the degree of credibility, transparency, fairness and free-ness as well as the quality and integrity of the polls,” says Temco project coordinator Benson Bana.

“Temco will also deploy 6,400 observers at polling stations on the referendum day, all with a duty to monitor the voting process so as to take note of all issues which may arise, during the voting and post-voting,” says Bana.

Bana says that for the general election, 7,000 short term and 118 long term observers will be in place.

“The team is as well expected to observe gender aspects, campaigns by candidates, the conduct of the media as well as activities during the polling day including voting, vote counting, result aggregation and release of results.”

This is the last term for President Jakaya Kikwete, whose ruling party, CCM, has been in power since 1961.

Four key opposition parties, Chadema, CUF, NCCR – Mageuzi and  National League for Democracy (NLD), have formed a coalition to back one candidate.

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