Tanzania approved a draft constitution on Thursday against the wishes of the main opposition parties that boycotted the process and said they would protest against the new charter, increasing political tensions before elections next year. The new constitution would replace one passed in 1977 when Tanzania was under one-party rule. Opposition parties and civil society groups called for a raft of political reforms but say the version passed on Thursday is too limited and does not establish a federal system that many wanted.
In April, the three main opposition parties boycotted a Constituent Assembly set up in March to draft the charter, saying the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party had hijacked the process and was ignoring their suggestions. In their absence, the assembly, dominated by members of the ruling party, voted in favour. “I would now like to announce that the Constituent Assembly has officially passed the draft constitution,” the assembly’s chairman, Samuel Sitta, announced after the vote. One opposition party, Chadema, last week called for nationwide demonstrations to oppose the Constituent Assembly but only small, scattered protests took place.
The party dismissed Thursday’s vote as illegitimate. “The illegal constitution … passed by CCM and its agents must be vehemently opposed on the streets and in the courts of law,” John Mnyika, Chadema’s deputy secretary general, said in a statement moments after the draft constitution was approved. “We must reject this illicit constitution through various means, including holding public rallies, boycotts, demonstrations and through judicial action.”
The opposition is seeking to challenge the dominance of CCM, which has been in power since Tanzania’s independence from Britain in 1961. Divisions between the opposition parties have long hampered their effectiveness, but they say they have now begun talks to name a single presidential candidate next year. Presidential and parliamentary elections are usually held around October.
President Jakaya Kikwete cannot stand again after serving a maximum two terms and CCM has yet to pick a new candidate. The draft constitution will be presented to Kikwete this month, the assembly’s chairman said. Kikwete has previously pledged to hold a referendum to confirm the constitution. Analysts said it remains to be seen if the president would hold such a vote, given the strong opposition from political rivals and some religious and civil society leaders.