Discussions in Tanzania’s Constituent Assembly were the main focus of local dailies this week as members of the House wrangled on the way of voting on issues that would arise from the draft constitution.
According to the state-owned Daily News, some members of the Assembly claimed they had been threatened with revocation of membership of the political parties or groups they represented.
“The heated debate showed lack of confidence among many members on open ballot, claiming that only a secret ballot was the way to ensure that democracy prevails,” the paper reported.
“Claims of intimidation and fear of victimisation among members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) were made as the debate on Standing Orders exposed deeply emotional views on the method of voting that should be used,” wrote The Citizen.
According to the private daily, virtually all members spent their time on the thorny issue of whether the Assembly should adopt an open or secret voting system, with some suggesting that an invisible hand may be out to manipulate and influence delegates.
The Assembly was going through its Standing Orders as put forward by a special committee that was appointed by the Assembly’s interim chair, Pandu Ameir Kificho.
According to The Citizen, it was widely believed that the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party had directed its members to push for an open ballot system in order to check those from its flock who would deviate from the party’s stance on the draft constitution.
Some CCM members fear that if they openly express any opinion against the party’s line they could risk disciplinary action.
A number of prominent CCM legislators, however, publicly declared that they would not support open voting on grounds that it went against democratic principles.
They said an open voting method would violate their basic rights and break Section 27 of the Constitution Review Act 2011.
John Shibuda, a former CCM member who defected to the opposition Chadema party and won a parliamentary seat, cautioned that an open vote may exacerbate sectarian differences.
Various dailies also reported that several members of the Assembly had warned Tanzanian authorities not to block the media from its activities saying that such an attempt would render the constitution making process illegitimate.
Debating the draft standing orders, Maria Sarungi, who is representing non-governmental organizations in the Assembly, said the constitution making process was not supposed to be secretive, and that was why Tanzanians were involved at various stages since the process started in 2011.
The Citizen reported that Ms Sarungi was reacting to a suggestion by William Lukuvi, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office who is responsible for Policy, Coordination and Parliamentary Affairs who wanted the media barred from attending the Assembly’s committee meetings on the grounds that the there was no room for journalists.
According to The Guardian, Lukuvi said that journalists should be restricted from the committee halls.
“Journalists should not enter debating halls…they will have access to the committee’s reports to be tabled in the House,” the daily quoted the minister as saying.
But another member of the Assembly, Ester Bulaya of CCM party maintained that it was crucial for the media to be allowed to enter into debating chambers.
“This process is open to the public. Being a journalist (by profession), I will not support any provision that interferes with the freedom of access to information”, she said.