By Jared Jeffery, Political Analyst, NKC African Economics
For three consecutive weeks leading up to 19 August 2017, police or intelligence agents allegedly followed opposition chief whip, and perennial thorn in the president’s side, Tundu Lissu wherever he went.
“They should work to fight criminals and not waste their time and money on taxpayers worrying about citizens fulfilling their right to hold government to account,” he told attendees of the Democracy and Progress Party’s (Chadema) summit.
Less than three weeks later, on 7 September 2017, attackers armed with AK-47s sprayed his vehicle with bullets outside his house at a guarded government housing compound in Dodoma. He was shot 16 times but survived.
Two years later, the perpetrators have not been apprehended and the government is trying to revoke Mr Lissu’s position as a Member of Parliament (MP) due to his absence for medical treatment.
The High Court on Monday, August 26, dismissed the state’s attempt to block an application by Mr Lissu to challenge the decision to strip him of his seat in Parliament.
A minor victory in a campaign to return and take on President John Magufuli in next year’s election.
The application, filed by his brother Alute Mughwai in his absence, also seeks to suspend the swearing-in of Miraji Mtaturu of the ruling Revolutionary Party (CCM) as MP for the Singida East constituency, according to The Citizen.
Mr Lissu is also facing a sedition case which has been adjourned until September 23 due to his medical absence. It is not yet clear whether he will return by that date.
Other Chadema leaders are fighting their own court battles. National Chairman Freeman Mbowe, Secretary General Vincent Mashinji, and seven other senior members (including five MPs) are facing charges of sedition, unlawful assembly, and inciting the commission of offences, among others, related to events last February during the Kinondoni by-election.
A university student was killed by a stray bullet when police tried to break up the demonstration organised by Chadema.
Elections are still over a year away but plans to counter the repressive turn that the political environment has taken under Mr Magufuli will need to be put in place soon if the opposition is to have any chance.
Mr Lissu’s return and a legal victory to keep his seat in Parliament would be a significant boost. It would also signal that the judiciary is able to withstand executive pressure.
Even if Mr Lissu and the Chadema leadership overcome the legal challenges they face, we can expect more trumped-up charges (likely on sedition and insulting the president) to be laid to hamper their campaign.
Before being shot, Mr Lissu had been arrested six times in 2017 alone.
The excessively empowered registrar of political parties, who benefits from the recently passed Political Parties Act, will also likely do their best to keep the opposition on the backfoot.
The year ahead is going to show what is left to salvage of the country’s democratic progress pre-Magufuli.
Hopes are not high.