by Ben Taylor
A series of high-profile defections of opposition figures to CCM has raised questions about the state of politics in Tanzania.
Around 70 opposition members including councillors and MPs have left other parties to join – or rejoin – CCM in recent months. This includes MPs Julius Kalanga (Monduli constituency), Mwita Waitara (Ukonga), Godwin Mollel (Siha), Maulid Mtulia (Kinondoni) and Zubery Kachauka (Liwale). Prominent CUF leader, Julius Mtatiro also left the party to join CCM, and a few months earlier, former Chadema presidential candidate, Dr Wilbroad Slaa joined CCM.
Various reasons are given for the defections. Some, including Mtulia and Mollel, have claimed great satisfaction with President John Magufuli’s performance. Others, including Waitara, say they had lost faith in their former parties after finding themselves criticised for collaborating with the government in development activities in their constituencies.
Accusations have been made that defectors to CCM have been “bought,” though there is no clear-cut evidence to support this claim.
Nevertheless, several public figures have argued that such a high rate of defections is not good for national politics, as it is likely to lead to disillusionment with politics among citizens. Several recent by-elections, including those to replace or re-elect defecting MPs, saw voter turnouts below 50%.
Dr Richard Mbunda of the University of Dar es Salaam argued that “self-disenfranchisement is disastrous both for the electorate and the government. The latter loses legitimacy while the former find themselves governed by policies they haven’t consented to.” He argued that legitimacy, once lost, is hard to regain, and civil disobedience is the likely result of being governed by an illegitimate government.
CCM Ideology and Publicity secretary Humphrey Polepole has said the opposition will continue to lose prominent leaders and members in the ongoing wave of defections. He claimed that many members of Parliament and councillors have requested to join CCM, noting that the decision was primarily caused by Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe’s poor leadership. “They complain of lacking coordination from top leaders. I predict that Chadema’s downfall will continue,” he said.
However, Mr Mbowe assured Chadema supporters that the defections would strengthen, not destroy, the party. “Chadema is strengthened by these defections because we are left with true leaders and members who are ready to build a strong opposition in the country,” he said.
CUF deputy secretary general for the Mainland, Ms Magdalena Sakaya, said she was shocked with developments that she said were “bad for democracy”. “Looking at the bigger picture you realise it’s a project to kill the opposition,” she said.