Tanzania: A Harvest of Thorns for the Opposition?

Dar es Salaam - Opinion is divided over whether opposition parties under their coalition, Ukawa, have gained or lost from boycotting parliamentary sessions protesting the way Deputy Speaker Tulia Ackson was running the august House.

For the great part of the second half of the just-ended Budget session in Dodoma, the Opposition walked out of all sessions chaired by Dr Ackson.

And, in a move which might be interpreted as depriving the Opposition of their right, Dr Ackson precided over all sessions during the last four weeks of the Budget session.

The just-ended National Assembly has, therefore, been widely characterised by the Opposition's walk-outs from sessions, boycotting formal meetings and workshops chaired by Dr Ackson.

The move has highly attracted public attention and raised questions from political commentators as to whether boycotting official parliamentary gatherings would yield the expected results and benefit the Opposition camp or the country at large.

Moving a motion to adjourn parliamentary sessions until September 6, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa hit at the Opposition MPs saying they had better return to Parliament and express their grievences through appropriate procedures instead of boycotting.

"Unfortunately, they have not succeeded since the electorate and our development partners have come to reliase that the Opposition is still immature in our country," he told Parliament on Thursday.

The Opposition lawmakers launched a fierce battle against Dr Ackson, accusing her of treating them unfairly and showing bias towards the ruling party, CCM. The major protests took place both in and outside the august House.

Incensed

It all started when the lawmakers were apparently incensed by Dr Ackson's decision to turn down a series of motions mainly raised or defended by lawmakers from the Opposition, particularly those from Chadema.

One, and perhaps the first scenario was when Chadema MP (Arumeru-East), Mr Joshua Nassari, rose to defend a private motion raised earlier by CCM lawmaker Juma Nkamia.

Mr Nkamia, whose motion was also turned down by the Deputy Speaker, wanted Parliament to debate the government's decision to kick out students from the University of Dodoma (Udom) who were pursuing a specially tailored teaching course. The Deputy Speaker did not give in.

The Opposition lawmakers, through the Simanjiro MP (Chadema), Mr James Millya, went a step further to lodge a petition, asking Parliament to cast a vote of no confidence against the Deputy Speaker for her alleged failure to observe fairness. However, the petition did not succeed.

The executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba has criticised the decision by the Deputy Speaker to "silence" the Opposition, saying that the move amounted to denying the public their right to hear from their constituency representatives.

Opposition MPs regard Dr Ackson as a person on a special mission to ensure that they don't use their freedom and space in the House to hold the government accountable on a number of political and administrative issues of the country.

They associate her actions and inactions to what they believe is a special duty to safeguard the interests of CCM and its government.

However, the Clerk of the National Assembly, Dr Thomas Kashillilah, for his part said he saw nothing wrong with the way the Deputy Speaker was managing her position in Parliament.

A public affairs commentator and director of a health advocacy organisation, Sikika, Mr Irenei Kiria, believes the opposition MPs lack the numerical strength to voice their concerns strongly enough.

But also, Mr Kiria was of the view that "it did not make sense" for the MPs to skip official gatherings as a way of protesting bad leadership in the House.

"Skipping the sessions means that Parliament made decisions without their participation," he says.

"They could have learnt from the South African parliament where the opposition MPs usually 'fight' for what they stand for--even if it means leaving their seats to sit on the floor," says Mr Kiria.

"The Opposition MPs must know they are less in number, therefore, their plans and expectations would always be met with disappointment. They can't basically succeed that way," he told The Citizen on Sunday in an interview.

However, Mr Kiria's suggestion may be far from what officials in the Opposition camp believe.

Chadema Information officer Tumaini Makene sees Ukawa as having succeeded to send the right message to the public over their dissatisfaction with parliamentary proceedings. He said they were setting records right that by boycotting it meant they did not endorse the bad decisions made in the House.

"One day the public will understand what Ukawa's intention was. CCM might have relied on their big numbers to overrule our proposals and demands but that does not mean we have failed," said Mr Makene when asked for a comment by The Citizen on Sunday.

A Chadema cadre from Njombe, Mr Williabrd Mwainuka, believes the political style used by the Opposition would not make them lose what they have always fought for. "The MPs' action has no negative impact on their political plans. Members of the public need to be educated on how politics works, especially in this country."

Source: The Citizen