CHADEMA has said the decision by the state to ban political parties was of massive advantage to them. The words in the heading of this article are a quotation from a news item published in the DAILY NEWS of Friday, September 22, 2017.
The said news item elaborates as follows: “Speaking in an exclusive interview with the DAILY NEWS recently, the CHADEMA Party Secretary for Ilemela District, Mr Peter Kaiza, said the action by President John Magufuli has helped his Party to concentrate on other strategies instead of wasting time holding rallies.
He said that by banning haphazard rallies and public meetings that were being held in the past, the President has made the opposition parties realise that they need to allocate more time for building their parties”.
It is this statement by the CHADEMA Party Secretary for Ilemela District, which gave me the motivation to write this article. This is because it gave me the opportunity to revisit this subject, which I had discussed briefly in this column in July 2016, when I was responding to a similar observation made by Augustine Mrema, Chairman of the Tanzania Labour Party (TLP).
It had been reported at that time in theDAILY NEWS of 28th June, 2016, as follows: “TLP supports Magufuli on Political rallies”. That Paper quoted Mr Mrema as having said thus: “It should be understood that such political rallies are not the priorities of the people.
The people out there want improvement of social amenities such as health, education, water and infrastructure, among others.
Hence, if Opposition political leaders insist on never-ending politicking, it is obvious that the Government will not get enough time to fulfill the campaign pledges which they made to voters regarding these matters”.
I therefore wish to take advantage of the CHADEMA Party Secretary’s statement, to throw some further light on the essence and meaning of President Magufuli’s ban on political rallies.
The said ban was based on a major principle. President John Magufuli’s ban which he imposed on political rallies during the period when there are no elections taking place, was based on a major principle, which may be briefly stated as follows: namely that under the multi-party political system, political competition between political parties normally takes place at two levels.
The first level is the very familiar ‘electoral competition’, which takes place at the time of elections, both general elections as well as by-elections, which are normally preceded by a scheduled period during which campaign rallies are held.
Fortunately, this fist level is quite well-known to the majority of our people, simply because of the large numbers of them who usually participate in this exercise either as voters wishing to listen to the candidates in order to enable them to make their choices of which candidate to vote for, or as people who are not registered voters, but are just interested in attending these mammoth campaign rallies, either out of curiosity, or as a welcome outing for relaxation.
That is the first level political competition, namely, electoral competition. But there is an equally important second level of political competition that is ‘competition inside Parliament’.
Unfortunately, this second level competition is much less familiar, due to the fact that participation inside Parliament is strictly limited only to the relatively small number of those who are members of Parliament, to the total exclusion of the vast majority of those who participated in the first level, electoral competition.
This article is structured in a manner which will, hopefully, help to raise awareness regarding the importance of political competition inside Parliament. However before we come to that, it may be helpful to our readers to take a brief look at the designated role of political parties in the parliamentary system of governance.
The designated proper role of political parties. A clearer understanding of the proper role of political parties in the country’s governance system, is certainly important.
In the case of Tanzania, that role is amply clarified in the Political Parties Act (no. 5 of 1992), which defines a ‘political party’ as follows: “Political party” means any organised group which is formed for the purpose of forming a Government, or a Local Authority, within the United Republic through elections, or for putting up or supporting candidates to such elections”.
Hence, in the context of this definition, the primary purpose, or indeed the raison de’etre, of any political party in Tanzania, is to participate in elections whenever they are due, with a view to winning the relevant election and forming the Government of the day at the national level, or a Local Authority at the lower levels. This definition underscores the supreme importance of political parties in a genuine democracy.
Hence, political parties are absolutely essential. In the parliamentary system of governance, political parties are the essence of electoral democracy, in the sense that, as we have seen above, the political party which wins a majority of the available Parliamentary seats, gets the right to form the country’s government of the day.
But that is, in fact, only one aspect relating to the functions of political parties, for they also do have other basic functions to perform. These generally include the following:-(i) providing a stable base for the government of the country.
This is because the political party which gets the right to form the government will be implementing the policies and programmes which were extensively explained to the electorate during the campaign period. The fact of that party having won the relevant election, is sufficient evidence of approval of its policies and programmes, by the majority of the electorate.
This endorsement and approval of its policies by the electorate is what provides a stable base for its governance activities. (ii) Performing the ‘interest aggregation’ function.
This means that one of the responsibilities of political parties is to process the various demands which are routinely made by the people, and convert these demands into policy options and implementation programmes, which are then presented to the electorate during the campaign period, for the electorate to choose between the policies of the competing political parties; and voting for the party with the most acceptable policies.
(iii) Providing a suitable and convenient forum for the participation of large numbers of people in the political processes.
This is because political parties are the most powerful political agents for political socialisation, for they can maintain a responsive polity without necessarily subjecting it to individual citizen involvement. In other words, the individual citizen does not have to engage himself in continuous articulation of his general interests.
His political party will normally take care of such general interests, with minimal personal involvement of its individual members.
All of these essential functions can continue to be successfully performed by any political party, without resorting to public rallies or street demonstrations. Hence, the Presidential ban imposed on such rallies has no negative impact on these functions.
The question of electoral Political competition. As noted above, electoral competition between political parties is sufficiently well-known to many persons, because of the opportunity it provides for extensive participation by ordinary people.
For example, normal electoral practice in Tanzania has been that the nomination of candidates takes place during the month of August, followed immediately by a lengthy campaign period before election day, which has always been the last Sunday of October of the relevant year. This is the appropriate period for the holding of political rallies.
And indeed, as experience has shown, this is the period during which mammoth political rallies are held throughout the country, attracting the attendance of thousands upon thousands of individuals, mainly the registered voters anxious to hear the aspiring candidates speaking, in order to enable them to make their choices as to which candidate they will vote for; but also including some others, not being registered voters, who are motivated solely by curiosity, or even as a form of outing merely for relaxation.
And in some cases, people are brought to the rallies by buses and even lorries, organised and presumably paid for by the candidate, or his political party, in order to swell the numbers and create the impression that the said candidate is very popular, and is therefore bound to win.
Such an impression however, may be false; and the possibility of such falsity was clearly manifested during the campaigns for the first multi-party elections in Zambia in 1991, in which the incumbent President Kaunda was seeking re-election.
His campaign rallies were impressively huge, compared to those of his main rival, opposition candidate Chiluba, who accused Kaunda of busing large numbers of people to his rallies.
Chiluba was reported to have declared: “they may have the numbers, but we have the votes”; which actually turned out to be true, because Chiluba eventually won that election. But that is a different story.
Our main focus today is on understanding the second level political competition, which is, as stated above, ‘competition inside parliament’, after the first level competition, (the election exercise), has been completed. Political competition inside Parliament.
In the proper, original culture of multi-party politics, the established practice, or convention, is that after the first level competition has determined the winners and the losers, political competition between political parties does not end there.
Such competition indeed actively continues, except that the venue for this competition now changes from public rallies held on sports arenas or other open public places, to the debating chamber of Parliament House.
It is because of this realisation of the importance of political competition taking place inside Parliament that, in the case of Tanzania, those leaders who were entrusted with the responsibility for managing the change from the One-party system to multi-party politics, took great care to make provision for a level playing field in the rules of the National Assembly in order to facilitate this competition, in line with the requirements of the political culture or conventions mentioned above.
The new provisions included concepts borrowed from British-based parliamentary conventions which recognise the importance of the Official opposition in the system of Parliamentary government, namely, institution such as those of ‘Leader of the Official Opposition’, and the ‘shadow cabinet’, These are the parliamentary institutions which were designed for the purpose of providing a level playing field for political competition inside Parliament., if they are properly utilized.
Imported cultural practices do no always work satisfactorily. But experience around the world shows that such imported political cultural practices and conventions do not always work satisfactorily.
For example, In the year 200, the Prime Minister of Grenada, Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell, is on record as having lamented as follows: “The Caribbean people have long had a reputation for passionate partisan debate in the adversarial form of parliamentary democracy which we inherited from Westminster.
But they also enjoyed a reputation for playing by the rules, namely that the winners of the arguments (at a general election) took office, while the losers continued the debate from the opposition benches inside Parliament, while preparing for the next election.
But today, in an alarming number of instances, passionate political debates are being continued not in Parliament, but in the streets.
And they are not being pressed not by debate, but by street demonstrations. Our acceptance of the parliamentary system is being seriously eroded”.
This is what explains the essence and proper meaning of President Magufuli’s ban on political rallies outside the period of election campaigns.
If I may revisit the quotations shown above, the essence and proper meaning of President Magufuli’s ban is that after the general elections have determined the winners and the losers, “the winners take office, and the losers continue the debate from the Opposition benches inside Parliament”, (Dr. Keith Mitchell, Grenada);“instead of wasting time holding rallies” outside Parliament (Mr.PeterKaiza, CHADEMA).
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