ELECTORAL REFORMS BILLS: Views back majority votes

DAR ES SALAAM: THE Parliamentary Committee on Governance, Constitution and Legal Affairs continued to collect public opinions on three crucial election bills for the second day on Monday, with a section of participants endorsing the provision that declares a winner of the presidential polls based on majority votes.

The Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government Elections Bill of 2023 states that the winner of the presidential polls will be declared after obtaining a majority of votes.

There has been a section of political stakeholders who have been advocating for legal changes requiring that, in order for the president to win, he or she should obtain 50+1 votes, meaning more than 50 per cent.

However, some participants who shared their views yesterday suggested that, considering the experience of low turnout in the previous elections, it would be impossible to implement the 50+1 threshold.

They added that by maintaining majority votes in declaring the winner, the country would equally reduce the costs of repeating elections if the percentage was not attained.

“The 50+1 approach is likely to force the government to dig deeper into the state coffers to finance repeated elections if the presidential votes are not enough. Therefore, in my opinion, we should maintain majority votes win as it has always been since the inception of multi-party democracy in the country,” said Samwel Magera, a member of the steering committee from the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA).

A public participation exercise began over the weekend at Parliament’s Msekwa Hall in the country’s capital, following the first tabling in Parliament of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Bill, 2023, the Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023, and the Political Parties Affairs Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

The three bills, which have drawn public attention, were tabled by the government in the august House on November 10, 2023. They seek to establish an independent electoral commission and address key democratic reforms that aim to level the political playing field in the upcoming elections.

The bills, which will be deliberated before being assented into law after the second reading, are expected to reshape the country’s political and electoral landscape, according to the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Governance, Constitution, and Legal Affairs, Dr Joseph Mhagama.

The national exercise for public participation, which ends tomorrow, saw some participants suggesting that the law should include a provision for compulsory debates among candidates vying for presidential, parliamentary, and councillor positions.

Fulgence Massawe, the Manager for Advocacy and Reforms at the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), said that by including a provision for public debates, it would be easier for Tanzanians to know what their candidates plan to do for them, even if they do not attend campaign rallies.

LHRC also proposed that the new law should establish a timeframe for the announcement of presidential, parliamentary, and councillor election results in order to eliminate the unprecedented delays in announcing results by the national electoral agency.

Mr. Massawe also suggested that voter Identity Cards (IDs) should be provided for free to people at all times, even if approved voters have misplaced them. The NEC Bill, 2023, suggests that those who lose their ID cards will have to pay for new ones, something which LHRC says will reduce the number of voters.

“We have witnessed poor turnout at polling stations in the previous elections. Therefore, by forcing voters to pay for lost cards, we will lose many voters who cannot afford to pay for new ones,” he noted.

Twaweza East Africa Director of Learning and Strategy, Baruani Mshale, proposed the need to have an online system for candidates at all levels to fill in forms, in order to avoid being disqualified by returning officers for being time-barred.

According to him, during the previous elections, some candidates were disqualified because they submitted their forms late to returning officers.

Dr Ananilea Nkya, the Chairperson of the Tanzania Constitution Forum, advocated for a provision in the new bill to ensure the independence of the media during the reporting of the electoral process, instead of having to rely on the National Electoral Commission for the information it wants to provide to the public.

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