CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

by Enos Bukuku

Will Tanzania get a new constitution? Referendum postponed
In January I wrote about the opposition challenge to the proposed constitution. By “opposition” I was referring to the informal alliance of opposition party members who call themselves Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (usually translated as the Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution), better known by the acronym “UKAWA”. It looks likely that UKAWA will play a pivotal role in the upcoming elec­tions, using its dissatisfaction with the constitution making process as a springboard to challenging the government on much broader issues.

The referendum on whether to adopt the draft constitution had been scheduled to take place on 30 April 2015. Cynics suggested that the reason for the referendum to be pushed through quickly was so that the government could take the credit for a new constitution before the general elections and to avoid the embarrassment of its opponents convincing the public to vote against it.

In the event, the National Election Committee (NEC) eventually bowed to the inevitable and announced that the biometric voter registration process would not be complete in time and that the referendum would be postponed. This was confirmed by the government, with a future date “to be announced later”. It now looks a strong possibility that the referendum will not take place before the General Election.

Pressure had been mounting on the government for several months, with calls not only from UKAWA and the NEC, but also from religious leaders. This is not the first time that religious organisations have entered the debate, which recently prompted President Kikwete to criticise some of those leaders who called for voters to vote against the adoption of the proposed constitution. It must be worrying for CCM to see the opposition parties join together against it, apparently with the support of influential religious figures, in an attempt to undermine both the constitution and the ruling party.

One undeniable truth is that this process has created a considerable atmosphere of mistrust of the government. This mistrust has manifested itself as serious doubts about this government-endorsed document, which was supposed to herald a new era for Tanzania. For Tanzania to receive a new constitution, that trust must be restored very quickly.

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