Fair elections rest in hands of returning officers

ARTICLE 74 (6) of the 197 7 Constitution of Tanzania stipulates the responsibilities of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) as including supervising and co-ordinating registration of voters in Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

Other responsibilities are to review the boundaries and demarcate the United Republic into various areas for parliamentary elections.

To supervise and co-ordinate the registration of voters and the conduct of the election of councilors, and to perform any other functions in accordance with a law enacted by Parliament.

“Subject to the provisions of Article 39, 47 and 67 of this Constitution and of the laws of the land in connection with the conditions for electing and being elected or for appointing and being appointed to take part in matters related to governance of the country.

Every citizen of the United Republic is entitled to take part in matters pertaining to the governance of the country, either directly or through representatives freely elected by the people, in conformity with the procedures laid down by, or in accordance with, the law,” stipulates Article 21 (1) of the 1977 Constitution of Tanzania.

The aforementioned articles give a legal authority to NEC on one hand and rights to citizens on the other.

The rights in question especially the ones to do with the governance of the country … .”through representatives freely elected by the people… .” is being coordinated and administered by the electoral body.

According to Article 7 4(7 ) of the Constitution, NEC is an autonomous department and its chief executive is the Director of Elections, who is appointed and supposed to discharge duties in accordance with a law enacted by Parliament.

It should be noted here that in executing its Constitutional duties, the electoral commission has continued to run several by-elections in the country due to various reasons including deaths and defection of Councillors and Members of Parliament.

This is done in a bid to give citizens their constitutional right of having representative at all levels of decision making in the country.

Speaking at a training session for Returning Officers (ROs) and Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) held in Dodoma recently, NEC Director of Elections, Dr Athumani Kihamia called on returning officers to be efficient.

At a seminar, held following the announcement of vacant seats in Temeke Constituency in Dar es Salaam and in 48 Wards of Tanzania Mainland, Dr Kihamia said the purpose was to ensure that laws, rules and regulations are being observed in the entire process.

“It should be noted that elections all over the world are a major indication of democracy and give an opportunity to test the strength of a country’s democracy,” he told training participants.

He laid emphasis on the efficiency in administering elections in the country in a bid to avoid unnecessary complaints from stakeholders.

“A free and fair electoral process and or the integrity of electoral process is a result of returning officers observing laws, rules and regulations governing elections.

Failure to observe this ethos leads to loss of trust among stakeholders, complaints over dissatisfaction with the process and election cases in the court,” he said.

It should be noted that election cases are among the things that have been censured by the electoral body’s top management giving a precaution that such matters are costly to the government, adding that such expenses if saved could be spent in implementing other development activities.

Dr Kihamia called on all the returning officers in the country to make sure that every time there is an election in the country, all the stakeholders are fully engaged to reduce complaints.

He told the participants of the seminar that after the commission has released an election timetable, returning officers are supposed to hold consultative meetings with political parties.

“In every step that will deem fit to engage political parties, you should engage them.

Political parties should be directed to channel their complaints through ethics committees and not anywhere else,” Dr Kihamia told returning officers.

NEC in collaboration with political parties and the government formed ethics committees according to Section 124A of the National Elections Act, Cap 343.

The committees are available at all levels from Ward to National level.

The major aim of having such committees in place is to level the playing field for fair competition in a bid to enable citizens to participate in the process, listen to candidates and make informed choice on the day of elections.

In a bid to make sure that candidates and their political parties observe the codes of conduct, a candidate is required to fill Form No. 10 admitting to abide with the codes of conduct, if a candidate declines to fill the Form in question will not be allowed to participate in the election.

For the electoral process to be peaceful and fair, all the election stakeholders are required to observe election codes of conduct.

The codes of conduct that are applicable are those of year 2015.

Ward Returning Officer chairs the Ethics Committee at the Ward level.

The committee members include one member from every political party that is participating in that particular election and a government representative nominated by the District Administrative Secretary.

Constituency Returning Officer is the chairperson of the Ethics Committee at constituency level and the committee members includes one member from every political party that has a candidate in that particular election and a government representative nominated by the District Administrative Secretary.

The ethics committee at national level is chaired by any appointed Commissioner of the National Electoral Commission, the committee is formed by one member from every party that has a candidate in an area where the breaching of codes of conduct has been reported and a government representative nominated by the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The highest level of these committees is the Referral.

This committee is chaired by the Chairman of National Electoral Commission the committee is formed by one member from every party that has a candidate and a government representative nominated by the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.

These committees are purposely formed to ensure that all the matters related to breaching of codes of conduct during an electoral process are discussed and reined by players themselves.

Unfortunately, some of the political parties shun respecting these noble platform that are crucial in ensuring a peaceful, free and fair election.

Things that breaches elections codes of conduct include mudslinging language and abusive words uttered by candidates and political party leaders during campaigning, exceeding campaign time, violation of campaign timetable, unauthorized demonstration of political party’s supporters prior and after political rally and political party members’ destroying campaign materials of opposed political parties’ candidates.

Others include government leaders’ interference in political parties’ activities, commotion against candidates and their political parties, placing candidate’s portrait on top of others, supporters and candidates’ interference on other candidates’ campaign rallies and utterance of baseless accusations.

Every candidate, National Electoral Commission, Government or Political Party that signed the election codes of conduct has a right to report in writing the breaching of such codes of conduct within 72 hours from the time of occurrence to the responsible committee.

Legal procedures to justice for any part that feels offended does not end at the committee levels, even after elections a party or a candidate that feels offended and who deems that the election was rigged or the playing field was not levelled and thus the winner does not deserve the win should seek justice in court.

With such a meticulous process that leaves no vacuum at all, it is unfortunate that losing political parties and candidates still opt to mudsling electoral body in the aftermath of elections.

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