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Role of returning officers for credible electoral process

AS the D-day approaches for by-elections slated for September 16, in 13 wards and 2 constituencies, it is important to ponder on some issues related to administrations of elections.

Some of the key individuals in the whole process are the returning officers and assistant returning officers whose role starts from the nomination process to the day of election.

Generally,when it is time for elections, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) nominates actors who supervises elections in the regional, district, constituency at ward levels as well as polling stations.

According to section 8 (1) of the National Elections Act, Cap. 343, Commission appoints Regional Elections Coordinator for every region in the Tanzania Mainland and two regional elections coordinators for Zanzibar (One for two regions in Pemba and one for remaining three regions in Unguja).

However, the byelections do not have regional elections coordinators. Section 7(1), (2) and (3) of the National Elections Act, Cap. 343 together with Section 9(1),(2) and (3) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, Cap. 292 grant authority to the electoral body to appoint a district executive director or any other public officer in the Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar to be a returning officer.

Other officials who are entrusted with the role of administering elections after they have been approved by the Commission includes election officers, NEC started employing election officers in every district council during the 2010’s General Elections.

In the 2015’s General Elections, NEC continued to use election officers at district levels in the Tanzania Mainland who had a role of assisting returning officers in coordinating various elections matters.

Considering conditions put under Section 7(4) of the National Elections Act, Cap. 343 and Section 9(4) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, Cap. 292, other actors includes two assistant returning officers at constituency level, one assistant returning officer at ward level, one presiding officer in every polling station, two polling assistants and a direction clerk.

As part of the preparations towards the September 16’s by-elections NEC has appointed various actors as stipulated in the elections laws and recently training was conducted to returning officers in the City of Dodoma where various topics were discussed and directives issued to ensure that the road ahead is smooth.

Officiating at the training, the Court of Appeal Judge Semistocles Kaijage who is the Chairman of NEC, called on election actors to work efficiently in a bid to reduce complaints during and after elections.

“The Commission has nominated returning and assistant returning officers based on their experience to handle election matters. I hope that the trainees will use this opportunity to share experience on the execution of the task ahead,” Justice Kaijage said.

He noted that notwithstanding the fact that NEC is entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing all the election matters, the people who closely supervise elections are returning officers and assistant returning officers at constituency levels and assistant returning officers at ward levels together with other actors at polling stations.

“Elections are a process that involves various steps which need to be followed, such steps are a cornerstone for a credible election. If all the procedures are thoroughly followed complaints can be reduced or eliminated at all during the whole process,” he said.

Justice Kaijage urged the returning officers to ponder on ways to make the task ahead a success and how to face various challenges that may arise in the process.

“Despite your experience in dealing with elections, make sure you pay attention to all the directives that will be given to you by the Commission, you should also obey the conditions set forth by the Constitution, Laws and Regulations on election matters,” he said.

He warned that the risks of not adhering to procedures of elections in a multiparty democracy country like Tanzania are enormous. “.....if we don’t adhere or follow the procedures of elections we will be a source of fracas or a source of many election cases and as a result we will inflict government into unwanted expenses which could be used in other social servers.....,” he urged the participants of the training in question.

He reminded the returning officers that they have a responsibility of ensuring that citizens and all the election stakeholders trusts the electoral body, therefore he emphasised that they should work efficiently and to the best of their ability without any favour to any part, be independent and objective, adding that by so doing peace will prevail in all the election areas.

“....I call upon you while exercising your duties to make sure that you cooperate with all the political parties taking part in these elections in a bid to avoid unwarranted complaints...,” he said.

It should be remembered that despite the fact that election actors comes from within members of the society and they are probably members of some political parties, when they are appointed to take some responsibilities in an election process they must take an oath to keep secrecy and to defect from active membership of a political party.

Under section 7 (5) of the National Elections Act, Cap. 343 and section 9 (5) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act, Cap. 292 read together with Regulation 16 (1) (a) of the National Elections [Presidential and Parliamentary Elections] Regulations 2015 and Regulation 12 of Local Authorities [Councillors Elections] Regulations 2015, before assuming their responsibilities, election actors should fill a form of an oath of secrecy.

According to Regulation 16 (1) (b) of the National Elections [Presidential and Parliamentary Elections] Regulations 2015 read together with Regulation 12 (1) (b) of Local Authorities [Councillors Elections] Regulations 2015, election actors should fill a form committing themselves of defecting from a political party membership prior assuming their responsibilities. 

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Author: ABDULWAKIL SAIBOKO

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