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President Suluhu Hassan takes another step on political rights

Gradually Magufuli's authoritarian legacy is being dismantled but the ruling party is keep its grip on power

The move by President Samia Suluhu Hassan to lift the ban on political rallies, imposed by her predecessor John Magufuli in 2016, opens the prospect of wider reforms on electoral law and constitutional powers – but not before the next election.

President Suluhu has been moving slowly on political reform since taking office in March 2021 following Magufuli's death from Covid-19.

'The government's responsibility is to provide sufficient space for rallies to be held peacefully regardless of the party's political affiliation and not to try and obstruct them as political rallies are constitutionally legal,' said President Suluhu last week when she met with opposition leaders in Dar es Salaam.

The ban on rallies was one of the toughest measures in Magufuli's bid to outlaw opposition politics.

The incrementalist approach of the last two years, which started with the release of several opposition leaders including Freeman Mbowe, the chair of the main opposition Chadema party, and the gradual easing of media restrictions is set to continue (Dispatches, 7/3/22, Freeing of opposition leader Mbowe reopens political arena). Suluhu has indicated that the next step will be reform of the electoral law followed, eventually, by constitutional reform (AC Vol 63 No 22, President Hassan edges towards political reform and big gas). 

'I think we will all eventually agree on which route to take,' she said of constitutional reform, though no timetable has been set for either electoral or constitutional reform. Given the need to keep her base in Zanzibar on side and its turbulent history with the mainland, Suluhu may have little appetite for a constitutional convention or radical new settlement.

That caution, and control of the timetable, will limit progress to the opposition's demand of a level playing field ahead of local elections next year and the 2025 general election. But there will be no repeat of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party winning 99% of the parliamentary seats as it did in 2020 elections which were widely condemned as rigged.

Determined to secure the support of the CCM to be its presidential candidate, Suluhu pitches herself as a unifying president following the years of the Magufuli 'bulldozer'. Most but not all of the Magufuli loyalists have been marginalised within the party. 

After the CCM leaders' meeting, Suluhu said her priority '…should be to restore unity and oneness. I decided that reconciliation (maridhiano) was important so that we Tanzanians could all start speaking the same language again.'

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