Thursday, January 26, 2012


Competition is as essential in politics as it is in business. The principles of economic reform apply to politics as well. Competitive economy cannot thrive without truly competitive politics offering real choice, and promoting leadership. There is a strong link between a strong opposition presence in Parliament and the performance of the incumbent party. 

Most voters, particularly the older generation, still see the opposition as a motley crew of charlatans who cannot be treated seriously. After all, these folks grew up associating the word “opposition” with people who oppose for the sake of opposing. Many if not most people still see the ruling party through the rose-tinted glasses of sentimentality. After all, the CCM of yesteryear was honest, incorruptible and relentless in its drive to turn Tanzania from a colonial backwater into a bustling metropolis. Many older voters still recall the days when they lived in dilapidated shop-houses, and appreciate the fact that they now benefit from modern sanitation. After all, when CCM came into power, the only means of waste disposal was to wait for the night-soil collectors to do their rounds. The younger generation did not experience such hardships, and are unlikely to give the present-day CCM much credit for achievements gained in the 1970s to 1990s.

The presence of young, promising candidates like Mr David Kafulila (NCCR-Mageuzi), Mr. Zitto Kabwe (Chadema), Ms Halima Mdee (Chadema) and many others will only serve to highlight that there is absolutely no stigma attached to joining the opposition. If one were to look beyond the quantitative aspects of the election results and consider the qualitative progress that has been made, it is indeed remarkable that an alternative elite has emerged, the real change that has taken place in Tanzania’s political landscape and CCM now has much more competition than ever before.

The threat is no longer singular; it can no longer be confined to one constituency not when so many CCM strongholds saw the CCM scrape with just 68.6% in the 2010 presidential elections from about 80% in 2005. The final results also showed some progress for the opposition parties. The CCM took 186 of the 239 seats, down from 206 recorded in 2005. Unless the main opposition parties once again shoot themselves in the foot, there is no way the competition will get weaken. Rather, it will grow more intense, and this is a reality that will not be escaped. 

CCM being the ruling party, much is expected, not only by its members, but also by Tanzanians as a whole. The party has been in existence for about 34 year more than any of the other parties and has an immense challenge to perform in a manner that it doesn't betray the people's trust.

The population is getting increasingly younger and correspondingly, the number of people with an emotional attachment to CCM, a "child" of Tanu and ASP, and who would vote it to power "no matter what", is dwindling. It is, therefore, by delivering on its election promises and pushing its government to act decisively on people's concerns that the party can assure itself of survival at the helm. When you give a promise, people, especially the young, take note, and you must expect very difficult questions if you deliver anything short of what you pledged you would give in exchange for their vote.

I believe that its time for the party leaders to question themselves if there is anything they should have done to make the lives of Tanzanians much better but did not do it. Ours is a country endowed with natural resources that are the envy of Africa; minerals, arable land, water bodies and appreciably favourable climate. But why then, have we continued to remain one of the world's poorest countries?

Despite our legacy as a country that cherishes equality and justice, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider. Yet, we haven't deleted the clause in the Constitution that defines Tanzania as a socialist country! The only way forward for the party is to acknowledge that the world, now defined a global village, has changed and continues to change fast. CCM's survival, as the ruling party or indeed, just as a party, will heavily depend on how adept it will be at handling new challenges in the face of "the wind of change".  

No one can be forced to stay in a party, and any such attempt will violate the freedom of association guaranteed in the Constitution. And yet, instinctively most of us feel that party-hopping is reprehensible. How do we deal with this problem? The problem can be posed differently. The economic liberalization process initiated in 1991 is all about removal of entry barriers in the market, and offering greater choice to consumers. The resultant competition improved quality, gave choice, and stabilized prices. As monopolies are broken and genuine competition is ushered in, firms became competitive, and productivity went up. But in the realm of politics, entry barriers remain, monopolies continue, and choices are denied.

Should we interpret greater choice in politics as license to defect at will? Obviously a lot of defections are self-serving, and voters are still denied choices. Today all mainstream parties are somewhat indistinguishable, notwithstanding their valiant efforts to differentiate themselves by symbolism and clever jargon. Therefore people feel cheated despite a 'free' and 'fair' poll. No genuine alternatives are offered to the electorate. Politicians too can cross fences with the ease of acrobats, as all major parties look and feel alike. Who will represent which party on a given day is a guessing game. Except for a few top leaders of major parties, almost anyone can switch loyalties any time. It is as simple as selling the shares of a company, and buying those of a new one. All that matters is anticipated returns, and short-term maximization.

Clearly, that is not the kind of 'competition' and 'choice' we seek in politics. Then how do we reconcile our notions of freedom, choice and competition with fairness, principles and public good? This question must be addressed, if we are to build a political system we can trust and respect. How can we then offer choices, encourage competition, generate opportunities, and promote freedom in the political arena?

To addressing this question, first, we need internal democracy in political parties. Members are denied choice, and there is no true or fair competition among contenders within a party in the only arena that matters the market place of ideas. When Parties choose better candidates as a result of political competition, the better candidates become better politicians who get the job done. Therefore, from a normative perspective, the findings call for institutions and policies able to increase voters’ information and awareness about the quality of political candidates and enhance the degree of contestability of the electoral races. 

Secondly, the monopoly of power in state and national governments must end. People get better choices, and party workers get opportunities for leadership if local governments are truly empowered. Third, there are serious entry barriers in politics, promoting oligopolies. A party cannot be viable until it gets about 200 members. Chama Cha Jamii’s (CCJ). Was locked out of the 2010 general elections because  the party didn’t meet the Section 10 (b) of the Political Parties Act Cap 258 requires a political party seeking permanent registration to obtain not less than 200 members from each of at least ten regions. 

And also the Registrar of Political Parties office governed by  Mr John Tendwa, claimed it didn’t  have the budget to finance the verification of documents submitted by the opposition party.  The process includes sending officials to ten regions where the party recruited its members. Why did the Registrar’s office of deny the rights of CCJ?  This must had its roots in the transition from single-party rule to a multi-party democracy. It was a controlled transition rather than a negotiated one where all players are involved in the process. 

The transition was controlled by ruling party CCM, whose leaders appointed the Registrar of Political Parties that made him the controller rather than Registrar of Political Parties. I don’t understand when the Registrar claims that he doesn’t have money that he is supposed to have to do his work. Imagine what would have happen if more than one political party had applied for a permanent registration. Opposition parties are being marginalised, and people are denied real choices.  In order to prevent fragmentation, we can have a reasonable entry barrier high enough to promote consolidation, and low enough to allow real competition in the form of a minimum vote share requirement for representation in legislatures.

Lastly, praises and criticisms are ingredients of democracy and development because out of divergent views solutions to problems are found.  But the bottom line is respect. Proponents of either side of the argument must respect each other.  Ones argument can be rubbished for either being pro government or in support of the opposition. This is where we miss the point. Not only should we respect each other but also listen and tolerate different views.

Rodrick Wilbroad
Business Economics & Management  

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