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Infighting Roils Tanzania's Opposition - 2002-08-09


In Tanzania, confusion and division are developing in the ranks of the United Democratic Party, or UDP. Tanzania's Registrar of Political Parties - John Tendwa - has confirmed the suspension of John Cheyo as UDP chairman. But Mr. Cheyo says it's all part of a scheme to weaken the opposition ahead of the 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections.

The UDP is Tanzania’s third largest opposition party – with just 3 seats in the country’s parliament. But some fear with continued in-fighting, its standing could drop even lower. Two weeks ago, John Momose Cheyo’s ouster as chairman of the United Democratic Party was made official. The registrar of political parties, Mr. Tendwa, accepted the decision of the UDP’s central committee to suspend him from office.

In early July, Mr. Cheyo had been sacked by UDP official Benson Kigaila and other members of the Central Committee. They accused him and several others of mismanagement, and of misuse of power and party funds. In retaliation, Mr. Cheyo expelled seven party members who had rebelled against him.

But the government Registrar of Parties, Mr. Tendwa, said Mr. Cheyo would remain in power until he could decide whether Mr. Cheyo’s suspension had been done in accordance with the UDP’s constitution. He said the problem was that the English and Swahili versions of the document differed as to whom had the power to discipline party members.

However, Mr. Tendwa announced recently that he was satisfied that the central committee of the UDP had indeed acted properly when it dismissed Mr. Cheyo from office.

Speaking about his suspension, Mr. Cheyo accused the Mr. Tendwa of being part of a Libyan effort to promote a non-party democracy. He said those who unseated him were trying to get hold of a $120 thousand dollar grant he had gotten for the UDP from the government of the Netherlands. Mr. Cheyo said his opponents – including Mr. Tendwa -- removed him so it would be easier for the ruling party to win in the 2005 elections. He defended his decision to fire his opponents – saying that his decision can only be overturned by the National Executive Committee and the National Conference of the UDP. He said the law does not give the Registrar of Political Parties the powers to decide on the leadership of any party – an assertion Mr. Tendwa denies. Mr. Cheyo’s opponents within the party have yet to respond to his allegations.

Mr. Cheyo was one of the presidential candidates in the 2000 elections. Given his loss of the leadership role of the UDP, analysts says it’s not likely he will run again in 2005.

Mr. Cheyo is advising the interim leadership to convene a members meeting, which has not been held since 1999. The meeting would try to end the breach between those who remain in favor of Mr. Cheyo and those who are against him. Many of those who favor Mr. Cheyo are said to have benefited from his distribution of party funds.

Power struggles within the opposition parties in Tanzania are seen as the major reason for the opposition weakness in the country. The strongest opposition party was the National Convention for Construction and Reform (NCCR) led by Mr. Augustine lyatonga Mrema. It was significantly weakened after internal fighting split the party into two major camps. One camp retained the leadership of the party after ousting Mr. Mrema who went on to become the chairman of the Tanzania Labor Party. The NCCR had 16 members of parliament, but its split has weakened its power.

A number of smaller political parties have been stricken off the register of political parties lately. One of them – the Popular National Alliance (PONA) – collapsed not long after its founder chairman died. At the moment the opposition has only 16 members in the 220-seat parliament. Internal squabbles occur mostly because of leaders running political parties like their own businesses, and because of mismanagement and misuse of subsidies provided by the government. Political analysts also say that the opposition is made up of largely money-hungry people with an ax to grind against the system or lawyers who want to make a name for themselves. So far, the established opposition parties lack a strong popular base of mass support. Out of the 16 seats held by the opposition in the parliament, the UDP has three. His colleagues have criticized Mr. Cheyo for weakening the opposition by openly supporting certain government policies. Most Tanzanians believe that the country will not have a truly effective opposition until the ruling party splits into two – if and when disagreement occurs in the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party.

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