Sunday, September 16, 2018

Is CCM really Curtailing its Grip on Power?

Is CCM really Curtailing its Grip on Power?

Aikande Kwayu's (PhD) recent blog post entitled 'Are political party defections in Tanzania diminishing CCM or enhancing its grip on power?' suggests that Tanzania's ruling party – CCM – is weakening itself, possibly unknowingly, through a number of ways. One such way is how it has been handling recent serial defections from opposition parties. Another way is the imposition of restrictions on civic space, especially the right of other political parties to exercise their constitutional mandate. 

In her post, the author seeks to show that the ruling party has been drifting away from its historical role and reputation, as a key nation building institution. While she raises many important issues, I think there are aspects that require further dialogue. In this response, I discuss some of the key points raised by the author, in a way that interrogates her counter-intuitive proposition.
Electoral violence is a recurring theme in Dr. Aikande's post. It asserts that the ruling party should have discouraged defections from opposition parties soon after the February by-election in Kinondoni. This election was characterized by loss of lives, and mayhem. She writes;

She also notes that the “costs of the subsequent bi-elections [sic] have been enormous, not only money-wise but also lives.” In short, she thinks the costs outweighs the benefits. This is a moralistic argument, which does not necessarily take into consideration the extent of the (unprecedented) threat that the ruling party had to grapple with during the 2015 general election. 

As we have learnt from the history of violence, and fraud in Zanzibar, or other experiences across the continent – South Sudan, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Uganda –  incumbents deploy a wide range of strategies to retain power. It seems no cost is too much in pursuing their objective. For CCM, the most important role of the recent defections is their symbolic value. This is embodied in the standard script, which all defectors keep reciting - “joining the ruling party to support good efforts of the fifth phase government”.
While perceptions of CCM as a benign institution, which Dr. Aikande alludes to, have been helpful in winning elections in the past, the party appears to have struggled, to a large extent, to maintain or reproduce that positive and hopeful image, especially among the young voters. The struggle, or even failure, in my opinion, is in part due to multi-party politics, which has made it possible, and legal (until recently), to contest official narratives. In this case, CCM is a victim of circumstance.

 There are indications that the ruling party has realized the challenge it is facing. Restrictions on political activities, and the enactment and amendment of The Statistics Act (2015), among other restrictive laws and policies, constitute a clear attempt to smother the scale and intensity of counter-narratives. But, this is happening late, at a time when overall support for a multi-party political system (62%), and trust in opposition (53%) is relatively high (See graphs below).

It is, therefore, not surprising that a Twaweza poll showed recently, that the restrictions are fairly unpopular. For instance, 40% of the population disagreed with the ban on political rallies. More significantly, the poll indicates that "young people (41%) are less likely than older citizens (60%) to agree with the ban".

But, how does CCM`s use of “tyrannical actions” – reliance on its own coercive instruments and those controlled by the state as well as restrictions on constitutional rights - in defending its influence, undermine its power? There are two main possibilities. One, is if the opposition (CHADEMA, ACT, CUF) continues to invest, and succeeds, in placing the blame associated with the “politics of upheaval”, which has been a key feature of recent by-elections, on the ruling party. Depicting the party as a divisive force, and a blocker of (re)conciliation efforts, may increase the viability of opposition parties as potential successors. Two, is if opposition parties resist the urge to employ combative measures in dealing with the current situation. There is evidence that populations across the continent, Tanzania included, have a strong preference for “consensus politics”, as opposed to politics of competition.
Recent defections have also given us a glimpse of in-fighting, and succession politics within the leading opposition party – CHADEMA. Sources suggest there is a faction which believes Tundu Lissu (MP) should be the (next) chairperson, based on his intellectual abilities, and combative leadership style, which seems to fit well with the 5th phase government`s orientation. But, as argued earlier, it is unclear if confrontation will bolster the opposition`s profile. Besides, if the emerging divergent visions of how to deal with the current political situation continues to weaken CHADEMA, as it seems to be doing, CCM will be the ultimate winner. It is high time that the opposition undertakes a sober reflection.

In her piece, Dr. Aikande focused on defections to the ruling party, and how mis(handling) them may undermine the party`s grip on power. Surprisingly, she rejected the claim that the opposition is weak, and suggested that the argument amounted to blaming the victim. While weakness is a relative status, and thus disputable, intellectuals sympathetic to the opposition should offer more insights, and strive to be more impartial in their analysis. For instance, one can hardly tell what CHADEMA`s strategy is at the moment, as the party continues to lose representatives in parliament and local councils. 
No significant effort has been made to re-assure CHADEMA's members and well-wishers, and re-adjust its public position in the current political climate. Politics is about perceptions, and public narratives are key in shaping perceptions. On this aspect, CCM appears to have an upper hand as Dr. Aikande had once highlighted in her 2014 blog post on 'Politics of Image or Image Strategy? CCM vs Opposition'. But that was when the playing field for the politics of opposition was relatively levelled in the country.

Many people seem to agree that the current CCM-led government has gone to great lengths to “trim” the influence of the opposition. In the course of doing so, it has made a wide range of relatively unpopular decisions. Nevertheless, the opposition would not significantly benefit from such social and political transgressions if it is fed with analyses that ignore its fundamental weaknesses.


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