Will ‘Lowassamania’, CCM waning support and exodus lead UKAWA to victory?

Lowassa's motorcade squeezing through thousands of supporters in Dar es Salaam

Lowassa’s motorcade squeezing through thousands of supporters in Dar es Salaam

Tanzanians are preparing to head to the polls October 25 to elect their next president for the first time since multiparty politics was reintroduced in 1992, the current presidential race is the most competitive with the flag bearer of opposition coalition, UKAWA (The defenders of the people’s constitution) Edward Lowassa threatening to send the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) packing.

Ever since he announced he was running for CCM nomination for president in May, longtime member of the ruling party, and former Tanzanian premier Lowassa generated great amount of interest in the fully packed race and out of 38 candidates he immediately became one of favourites to win the nomination.

His popularity within the party rank and file, and experience notwithstanding, Lowassa was overlooked by the party leadership particularly the current ruling party chairman and president Jakaya Kikwete who preferred his Foreign Affairs Minister, Bernard Membe to succeed him, and was eliminated from the nomination contest in the preliminaries.

Lowassa’s failure to even make it in the last five finalists in the nomination race caused some consternation within CCM but the party leadership coalesced around the country’s Minister of Works Dr. John Pombe Magufuli as their nominee for president in the forthcoming poll.

Not long after his terrible loss Lowassa did what would have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago; he defected to Chadema, an opposition party in Tanzania, and in the process Chadema, together with three other opposition parties; Civic United Front (CUF), NCCR-Mageuzi, and National League for Democracy (NLD) under the opposition coalition the Alliance for the Defense of People’s Constitution (UKAWA) decided to join forces and field a joint candidate against mighty CCM and Magufuli.

With October 25 approaching, the four coalition members wasted no time nominating Edward Lowassa as their candidate for president and UKAWA and the former premier officially launched their campaign.

“I will make sure Tanzania’s ailing airline company –Air Tanzania regains its role as the East African leading airline. I want to improve the central railway to and from Dar es Salaam to upcountry regions and we will set up new ports and improve the available ones to boost the economy,” Lowassa told cheering supporters at Jangwani grounds in Dar es Salaam while declaring presidential bid under Chadema and UKAWA.

Lowassa’s departure from CCM has triggered an unprecedented exodus of powerful and influential politicians from the ruling party, dozens of top leaders in the party have openly left Chama Cha Mapinduzi following the popular former government head, notable of these disillusioned top CCM party politicians ‘jumping ship’ include another former prime minister Frederick Sumaye.

Sumaye has urged voters to allay their fears and vote CCM out of power, usher in the urgently needed change to steer the country in the right direction.

Wherever he goes, Lowassa has drawn enormous crowds; the man has stirred up the political scene but the jury is still out on whether or not the sea of supporters will actually show up to vote come election day, and if indeed all these hundreds of thousands vote, will their votes count or the government and ruling party machinery will pull all the stops to have their Magufuli eke out victory?

No clear frontrunner, conflicting polls

Some polls have shown CCM’s candidate Magufuli trouncing his main challenger Lowassa but other polls have had Lowassa in the lead.

Judging from the inconsistency in the polls, it is extremely hard to tell who the clear frontrunner is between the two candidates.

In addition, there have been reports of political parties especially CCM influencing pollsters to produce polls that favour their candidate.

Last week a Twaweza poll drew strong condemnation from experts and opposition politicians after it released a poll that showed CCM’s John Magufuli leading Chadema and UKAWA’s Lowassa by a staggering 40%. In the poll, Magufufuli was on top with 65% while his rival Lowassa was in a distant second with 25%.

“I ask you to turn up in large numbers and vote for me next month to show that the Twaweza poll is wrong,” Lowassa told his supporters at rally in Dar es Salaam last week while responding the poll.

Twaweza poll coincided with another by Tanzania Development Initiatives Program (TADIP) which had CCM’s John Magufuli trailing his rival. In TADIP’s poll, Edward Lowassa was leading with 54.5% whereas Magufuli had 40%.

These conflicting polls indicate the race for the presidency in Tanzania is far from decided, voters are decided, and polls are unreliable.

United and well organized opposition

Lowassa’s defection and subsequent departure of high profile cadres from the country’s ruling party has emboldened the rank and file to make the move. Lowassa’s youthful support in CCM has followed him in Chadema and UKAWA, and it is evident the former premier has support in the Tanzania’s youth, university educated and urban demographics. Now will UKAWA and Lowassa translate this tremendous support into real votes come election day?

Unlike in previous elections, this time around the four main opposition parties making up the coalition UKAWA have resolved to field a single candidate at all positions from the grassroots to the president, this move might come in handy on October 25.

Even in past elections opposition parties have managed to win a good number of parliamentary seats yet they were not united, will they win more seats in the national assembly this year given the fact that they are united? Will they win majority seats in the national assembly and even go ahead dislodge Nyerere’s party?

Some have pointed to the fact that in the opposition camp, things might not be all rosy; both Chadema and CUF have lost top leaders in Dr. Wilbrod Slaa and Professor Ibrahim Lipumba respectively. The former secretary general of Chadema and Chairman of Zanzibar-based Civic United Front (CUF) left the opposition upon Lowassa’s arrival in an apparent protest.

These gentlemen’s departure might impact the opposition but this impact is insignificant; Lowassa’s arrival has infused more energy into the opposition than they will or have taken out.

CCM down but not out

Clearly, for the first time in its 23-year old reign, the ruling party is in decline, had it been strong and organized Lowassa and dozens of cadres who have left with him would not have left.

Gone are the days of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and incredible dominance of Chama Cha Mapinduzi. Even if it ends up retaining the presidency this month, it is damaged goods, the opposition is likely to put up a serious fight.

CCM’s has reneged on the promises of eradicating corruption, revamping the economy, infrastructure, education, and creating employment among others and others this time around Tanzanians seem to have awakened from their 23-year old slumber and they have sent out clear message to their leaders by signaling to give the opposition a chance.

In spite of these shortcomings , CCM is still in power and have been in power for nearly four decades, they know how to win elections (fair or unfair), they appoint and control the electoral commission, and they know their rival in and out.

It is true the European Union (EU), African Union (AU), SADC, Commonwealth et cetera have observers on the ground to monitor the elections but still the ruling party will always get its way (s).
Chama Cha Mapinduzi might be down but Lowassa and UKAWA can count it out at their own peril.

Lowassa’s time in CCM; asset or curse?

Former Prime Minister  Edward Lowasa

Former Prime Minister Edward Lowasa

Lowassa is a career politician and lawmaker, he has dedicated most of his life to CCM and politics, he has a proven record when it comes to serving the public; his accomplishments are numerous but his infamous corruption-related resignation in 2008 has tainted his record and might as well come back to haunt him.

His record of initiating education reforms in the country’s secondary school system help Tanzania meet the UN Millennium Development Goals on education goal.

He has also been influential in designing a plan to supply water to Shinyanga region from L. Victoria and in 2003 he rolled the dice and annulled an agreement between the government and a foreign private investor to improve water and sewage system in Dar Salaam after residents complained of poor services, the contractor sued the government but Lowassa was vindicated when the court ruled in the government’s favor.

The Monduli native also helped lobby for the establishment of the country’s second largest University; University of Dodoma.

With this record of delivering, no wonder hundreds of thousands have seen something different in the man who has long set his eyes on the highest office in the land. Last week’s TADIP poll indicated as IPP media wrote, “Lowassa has conquered the hearts and minds of the people in Kilimanjaro by 73 per cent, Tanga 70 per cent, Arusha, 67 per cent and Dar es Salaam regions with only 55 per cent.” Now, the onus is on Lowassa himself, and his Chadema and UKAWA teams to make their case to the rest of the country hoping Tanzanians entrust them with power come October 25.