Tanzania's opposition heads have rejected a Bill, which, according to them, allows the president to appoint 166 of the Constituent Assembly members.
Opposition leaders in Tanzania finally played their cards right. In a rare show of unity, they have teamed up to reject the contentious Bill for Amendment of the Constitutional Review Act 2013.
Last week, leaders of the three major opposition parties in Tanzania, Chadema, the Civic United Front (CUF) and the National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR-Mageuzi) said they would embark on a countrywide campaign against the decision by members of Parliament from the governing party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to pass the Bill, despite the cry by their opposition counterparts that the Bill was flawed.
The Bill was passed by CCM MPs on September 6 in the absence of MPs from the three parties who staged a walkout after failing to press for its withdrawal.
The endorsement was preceded by a stormy debate and ugly scenes, which saw physical confrontations involving some MPs and parliamentary security officials.
The confrontations followed an unsuccessful push by the MPs to have the Bill withdrawn on claims that stakeholders from Zanzibar were not fully involved in the collection of views on the Bill.
The opposition leaders now want the president not to sign the Bill into law.
According to the leaders, the Bill bears a contentious clause, especially on the selection of Constituent Assembly members, which allows the president to appoint 166 of the Constituent Assembly's 604 members.
They also said some clauses in the final document tabled in Parliament were inserted without following proper procedures.
The leaders' opposition also revolves around the number of members in the assembly and representation. Professor Ibrahim Lipumba (CUF), Freeman Mbowe (Chadema) and James Mbatia (NCCR-Mageuzi) also want the number increased to 792 and members from Zanzibar – a constituent of the union – increased to 50% from the current proposition of 36%.
Previously, the opposition in Tanzania has been criticised of disunity, with some of them siding with the ruling party when it comes to discussing serious issues of national importance.
The recent turn of approach by the opposition leaders in Tanzania spells a new dawn in the history of the country's multiparty democracy since its inception in 1991.
A political scientist based in Dar es Salaam, Emmanuel Chonza, said it was important that politicians worked to have a Constitution that has the legitimacy of the majority and that key stakeholders like the opposition are fully involved.
'Review of the Constitution'
"Why as a nation are we undergoing a critical review of the Constitution? It is simply because we want strong institutions [including the Constitution] for the interest of Tanzanians … CCM has to know that this document is for all Tanzanians and not the ruling party alone," he said.
The analyst said that the Constitution as an institution must be strong (suppressing all sorts of loopholes) enough to maximize gains of the people from the national resources the country has namely people, minerals, land and water bodies.
"That said, it's expected that the Constitution writing processes must maximise involvement of citizens [even if through their representatives – MPs] legitimately."
The leader's unity comes at a time when the country is divided regarding the Bill. Politicians, civil society and academic organisations alike have called on the president not to sign the Bill while members of the ruling party see no problem with it.
The constitution making process in Tanzania on the other side seems to pass through a number of difficulties with some political parties differing with the Constitution review commission on the number of governments the country should have. Tanzania was formed on April 26 1964 after two countries, Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined to form the union.
While Tanzania boasts of being a peaceful and democratic nation, analysts have been questioning its observance of good governance and transparency principles if major stakeholders are critical of the way a serious document like constitution is made.
They urge that CCM never had the constitutional review plan in its election manifesto and that was now using the opportunity to steal the agenda from the opposition.
"How come today they claim to grab and take lead of the process? They might be having a majority goal's distortion agenda motivated by dishonest issues behind the scene. A national unit is critically needed at the moment to force these people [ruling party] agree to incorporate the wishes of other groups.
"Until every elite and ordinary person knows this, CCM might lead us into a chaotic destination any citizen [including CCM members] won't wish to see it happening," said Mr Chonza.
With South Africa's President Jacob Zuma refusing to sign the Protection of State Information Bill, calling parts of it unconstitutional and incoherent, it would only be good for Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete to emulate him and refer back the Bill to the National Assembly for reconsideration.
As campaigners and the media alike celebrate the president's bowing to pressure, it would be interesting to see what Kikwete does in Tanzania.
Having not made a Constitution of its own in a more inclusive way as it was seem to be this time, Kikwete would be expected to consider the views of rights groups and opposition parties so that the country gets a more legitimate document and avoid putting the country into an unnecessary political crisis.
Sylivester Ernest is a 2013 winner of the David Astor Journalism Award. He is on attachment at the Mail & Guardian.