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Political parties want religions out of polls

Party after party, they were all weary of the role played by some churches in asking their congregations to vote for certain candidates on grounds that they were giving 'civic education'. The parties rejected the clause in a guideline topic when the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was announcing the by-elections time table for the Arumeru East constituency to political parties.

Their wrath prompted the NEC Chairman, Justice (rtd) Damian Lubuva, to announce that they would revisit the clause so that it does not create the impression that religious leaders would be involved in campaigning. First in line was Dominata Rwechungura from Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) who alleged that some churches would abuse their role should NEC commit itself to such a clause.

Frank Koreti, an administrative official at CCK party cautioned that manipulation of civic education platforms by some religious leaders had the power to bring social disorder. He urged that NEC should stay after elections to educate people on how to reel from divisions usually left behind after campaigns.

Mr James Mapalala expressed confidence in the new Commission, praising it for adding the issue of equal rights for all parties which he said was a phenomenon. He, however, lamented that the clause allowing religious leaders to play a role in sensitize the public would be abused.

"We hope that the issue of equal rights in elections will be managed well, but on civic education, some churches take advantage by telling the electorate who to vote for in the elections," he said. The Secretary General of the Alliance for Tanzania Farmers' Party, Rashid Rai, said religious leaders should not get involved in the campaigns, not even implicitly.

A leader from the Demokrasia Makini party, Dorothy Kimwaga, echoed the same sentiment, saying that religious leaders should not be involved. "If we say that religious leaders should be involved, it is very likely then that candidates will start doing campaigns in mosques or churches," she noted.

She recalled an incident in Gairo on her party's ticket where some groups used religious sentiments to keep her out of the race. A representative from Chadema, Victor Sera, asked NEC to separate religious issues from politics, noting that Tanzania is a secular nation.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Publicity and Ideology Secretary, Mr Nape Nnauye, urged that NEC  find a way of coordinating the civic education exercise so that no one uses such platforms to sensitize the electorate on which party or candidate to vote for. "Civic education should be about people's rights to vote and not who they should vote for. Some institutions may manipulate the platform," he said.

NEC Commissioners agreed that based on the political parties' feelings on the matter, the clause would be scrapped or reviewed.
The Director of Parliamentary and Council Affairs (CHADEMA), John Mrema, said that as a result of NEC only reviewing the permanent voters' register twice in 5 years, some 13,000 students in three new higher learning institutions in Arumeru East would miss their right to vote for their legislator.

But the NEC Chairman noted that it was a legal issue where the students only recently came to the area after the register was prepared in 2010. The NEC Chairman also announced that they would set up offices with personnel in every municipal council.

The by-elections would be in Arumeru East (for Parliamentary seats) and wards (for councillors) in  Kirumba (Mwanza), Mswambweni (Tanga), Chang'ombe (Dodoma), Lizaboni (Songea), Vijibweni (Temeke), Kiwangwa (Bagamoyo), Lagangabili (Bariadi) and Kiwira(Rungwe). Candidates for the Arumeru East seat will be endorsed on March 8, with campaigns starting on March 9 to 31. The election date is set for April 1. Since the 2010 General Elections, NEC has overseen one Igunga Parliamentary by-election and 22 by-elections in wards.

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Author: ORTON KIISHWEKO

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