Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Opposition rejects constitution process, sets date for demos
There is no doubt that the Constitution making process is now in a limbo following the common position by three opposition parties with representation in the National Assembly that they will not attend the Constituent Assembly, without amendments to the Constitution Review (Amendment) Bill, 2013. The announcement was issued on Saturday last week by Chadema national Chairman Freeman Mbowe in a grand rally held at Jangwani grounds in Dar es Salaam involving members and followers of three opposition parties having MPs. The position is expected to pile up pressure on President Jakaya Kikwete as to whether he should assent to the bill as adopted by the National Assembly in Dodoma at the end of the last session of Parliament. Leaders of NCCR-Mageuzi, the Civic United Front (CUF) and Chadema reinforced the position adopted when forming a three party forum after walking out of the debating chamber when the bill was being adopted. They objected to amendments being made to the Constitution Review Act of 2012 saying many parts of the country as well as stakeholders have not been included in the process. MPs from the three parties walked out of the chamber following rejection of the chair of their demands for reviewing sections of the bill, in which case the bill was adopted without dissent. Since then opposition leaders have taken the agenda to the public by holding consultative meetings, with a rare inter-party rally at Jangwani grounds in Dar es Salaam yesterday to lay the roadmap for their course of action. The Chadema chairman intoned that they would hold demonstrations in all major urban areas in the country on October 10 to demand a review of the adopted bill, so as to obtain a constitution making result that is consonant with public aspirations. The demonstrations would involve people of all walks of life irrespective to party loyalties, he asserted, backed by CUF chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba who cautioned that if the process is left to continue on the basis of the amendment bill, the envisaged Mother Law would cater for the political interests of the ruling party. The Constitution Review Bill recently adopted has all members of Parliament join the Constituent Assembly, where CCM is likely to be dominant as it has 260 MPs, about 70 per cent of the total, with opposition having close to 90 MPs. “There is no doubt that CCM interests would be safeguarded in the Constituent Assembly,” the CUF chairman intoned.
Community groups are slated to chalk up 166 members in the assembly but opposition parties are wary of the modality set by the law on their appointment. Each community group would propose nine names to the president from which three would be picked. James Mbatia, the NCCR-Mageuzi chairman and nominated MP, stated that the constitution review process requires consensus where the various groups of people have the right to speak for themselves in order to get the right constitution. He said roughing up of MPs that occurred in the House arose from denying the opposition the right to speak, while they represent people in the society. “The government must understand the fact that the constitution is meant for the future of the country as a whole and it should have not be geared to the interests of any party,” he told the gathering. The nation should get a new constitution at whatever cost, demanding why the two-tier government structure must be retained. “If you want to supervise any change, you must accept democratic change,” he urged the government. He described the constitution making process as a national disaster, insisting that in whatever way there must be a way for the struggle for the rights of the people to be realized, insisting the ruling party should understand that the whole constitution making process is not based on one party. Bishop Zakaria Kakobe, head of the Full Gospel Bible Fellowship Church, stole the show when he unexpectedly turned up at the rally, telling the gathering that he had noticed that the government was trying to force the constitution making process. He urged the president not to sign the bill as doing so would mean denying people’s constitutional rights. He said he decided to add his voice to support the rally because “the agenda on the table is not of opposition parties alone but it belongs to the nation as a whole.” The process of writing a new constitution should be as free and as credible as possible, in which case all who wish the nation well should react vigorously if the process is disrupted in any way.