Tanzanian opposition to boycott constitution vote

ARUSHA – Tanzanian opposition parties have decided to boycott an upcoming constitutional referendum, vowing to urge the public to follow suit.

"We have decided to pull out… because the entire process is not backed by national consensus," Ibrahim Lipumba, a leader of the Coalition of Defenders of the People's Constitution (UKAWA), told The Anadolu Agency in a phone interview from Dar es Salaam.

"Leaders in the government and all the authorities have neglected our opinions and most of the suggestions from the opposition and the people in general," he said.

Many observers accuse the government of failing to implement a decision to use a biometric voter-registration system by not releasing the needed funds to the country's electoral commission.

"The electoral body has only received 250 out of more than 7,500 biometric voter registration kits needed to prepare the new voters' roll," said Lipumba, who is also national chairman of the Civic United Front.

The electoral commission wants to update the country's voter list using a biometric voter registration (BVR) system.

The registration exercise was originally scheduled to start in late 2014, but was delayed due to the government's failure to provide the electoral body with the necessary funding.

The national electoral body has set Feb. 16–23 for the voter registration exercise.

James Mbatia, another UKAWA leader and national chairman of the NCCR-Mageuzi party, said the entire constitution-drafting process lacked national consensus.

"The remaining time before the referendum is not enough to make necessary preparations which will assure the people and the nation of a credible constitution," he told AA.

"We are not going to be part of these failures," he said.

The Tanzanian government has set April 30 as the date for its planned referendum on a draft constitution.

Last October, the draft constitution was handed over to President Jakaya Kikwete by the country's constituent assembly.

The new constitution-drafting process started in 2011.

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Lipumba, an economics professor and a former lecturer at the state-run University of Dar es Salaam, said the opposition would focus on drumming up public support for the boycott.

Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA national chairman and a UKAWA leader, called on Tanzanians to shun the referendum as the proposed charter, he asserted, would not serve their needs.

"We cannot be part of a process that we abandoned a few months ago," he told AA.

"The entire constitution-making process has been hijacked by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi through the government's hands," Mbowe said.

Many activists have called on the government to postpone the referendum until after a general election set for October.

"The country is not in a position to effectively handle two crucial events: the new constitution referendum and general elections," Hellen Kijo-Bishimba, executive director of the Legal and Human Center, a local NGO, told AA.

"These two events could make or break the nation if not handled carefully," said Kijo-Bishimba.

For his part, William Lukuvi, the minister of lands and housing, said the government was committed to seeing the upcoming general poll conducted under the new constitution.

"The government is committed to leading the constitution-writing process," he told AA.

"The national electoral body will be provided with all necessary funds and equipment to enable the BVR exercise to give a chance to all Tanzanians to participate in the referendum and election," the minister said.

Tanzanians will vote in general election in October.

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