NEARLY three and half years ago I did write something on the high court’s decision on the independent candidacy in our electoral system (THISDAY, 18 August, 2006). I did then argue that unless the issue is settled quickly and amicably it will likely pose serious political, legal and operational problems during the next election cycle.
The issue now is before the full bench of the Court of Appeal for consideration by our learned citizens after the government appealed the ruling by the judge. All eyes and ears are now on the judges and how they will interpret the law of the land.
I wrote then that not allowing people who are not affiliated with political parties to seek elected public offices is an act of denying citizens their right to serve the country in the best possible way. This is still the way I look at the issue today. At the same time, however, by leaving the process open-ended it paves the way for few individuals to manipulate the system to their advantage.
In other words, one cannot rule out the chances of localized or widespread chaos resulting from failed electoral process. Of course, this is not to suggest that it does not happen in places where affiliation to political parties is mandatory.
The situation, as it is now, raises some serious questions about the future of our democracy and democratic process for a number of reasons. When all things have been said and done, someone somewhere must make a difficult decision of whether or not independent candidates should be allowed. Now that everybody is at it perhaps it is not a bad idea after all to add some few thoughts in addition to what was said some time back.
I should start by pointing out the fact that it has taken too long time for the issue of such great magnitude to reappear on our political radar screen. There is no doubt that this was time long enough for the stakeholders to have worked out the details on how to go about implementing the court decision.
To some observers, bringing up the issue with elections just a few months away gives the impression of some ulterior motives on the whole issue. Indeed, one cannot blame them for subscribing to this line of thinking.
There are those who have strongly argued that the time is too short to implement the decision. They might as well be right. It is true that at this point in time we don’t have political, legal and policy framework for implementing the decision no matter how rightful it might be.
By allowing independent candidates it does not mean that every John, Mary and Asha should rush to get their names onto the ballot papers just because it is their human or constitutional right to do so. There must be some mechanisms in place to oversee the whole process and currently we don’t have them. In other words, time is needed for adequate preparations if we are really interested in strengthening and/or deepening our new found democracy.
Having said that, however, one cannot understand the fact that some people are working hard to ensure that the fundamental right to elect and be elected is denied to majority of Tanzanians who are not members of political parties. This is fundamentally wrong. Even in a country such as the USA considered as a ‘mature’ democracy, essentially a two-party democracy, they have never ruled out stand-alone candidates.
In fact, not long ago a candidate for Senate seat was rejected by his own party in the primaries, equivalent of our ‘kura za maoni’, only to be elected as independent even though he votes with his old party! Their system made it possible for that to happen.
The only problem I foresee is the nature of our political system which is a strange mix between inherited parliamentary system and the republic and where the ‘separation of powers’ leaves much to be desired. We have MPs who serve in the executive, the president who appoints members of the judiciary, a life time job, single-handedly and so forth.
These are the issues that need to be worked out if one is to comprehend full implication of independent candidacy. Again this will require a complete overhaul of the constitution and not a mere patching up.
All in all, there are no convincing reasons why we should ban independent candidacy. Yes, independent candidacy is the right of each and every Tanzanian citizen but it must be realized in a smooth, orderly manner.
Delays are expected but they should not be the basis for abandoning the existing system without a meaningful alternative in place. Those who are eager to see the right restored with immediate effect should also think of intended and unintended consequences of doing so.