Opposition Flares as Tanzania Prepares for Referendum on Constitution

Tanzania-referendum.jpgWhen it comes to government elections in the east African Republic of Tanzania, it's all smoke and mirrors, with plenty of smoke, few mirrors and no transparency, of course. On April 30, an estimated eight million "registered" Tanzanians out of a total estimated population of 42 million, will try to vote their preference for a new constitution.
If passed, the proposed constitution would come into force ahead of general elections due in October of this year. President Jakaya Kikwete, however, has served his two terms and cannot run again. But that won't slow down the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
CCM opponents argue any new constitution or revisions to the current constitution, or even the election of a new president, will be largely meaningless so long as CCM remains in power. CCM has controlled the government for 54 consecutive years since Tanzania's independence from the United Kingdom in 1961. Its members make up two thirds of the Tanzania parliament. 
During a recent debate, spoken in English and Swahili, opposition lawmakers led by the Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) party, and leaders of the two other opposition parties, stormed out, claiming the debate was a farce because they were not included in the drafting process of the constitution and their views were not being recognized.
CHADEMA also charges there was no quorum during the constitution draft process and claims there was evidence of vote cheating by CCM members.
The opposition is seeking to challenge the dominance of CCM, which has won all four elections since its one-party rule ended in 1995.
CHADEMA wants to limit presidential powers and establish a federal system of government.  CHADEMA is also pushing for the creation of an independent electoral commission which would monitor the voting process at the polls.
The new constitution would also set a limit on how many cabinet ministers can appointed by the president, introduces a 50-50 gender representation in parliament and gives women equal land ownership rights with men.
If passed, the proposed constitution would come into force ahead of the October general elections. The row over the new constitution would replace one passed in 1977. At that time, Tanzania was under one-party rule,
President Jakaya Kikwete has served two five-year terms and according to the current constitution, cannot run again--unless, that is, the controlling CCM party decides to make some unprecedented changes to the draft constitution now under review.
And that's the way it is at this moment in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, only 7,523 air miles from New York City.

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