President Jakaya Kikwete said on Friday he was appointing a team to work on a new constitution for Tanzania, after growing calls for changes to the country’s political system. Opposition parties, religious leaders, civil society organisations, media and legal experts have called increasingly for a new constitution for Tanzania, which held a disputed presidential election in October.
Last week, police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of opposition protesters who marched in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam to support the calls. “We have agreed to start the process of reviewing our constitution … I have hereby decided to appoint a constitutional review commission, which will be headed by a seasoned lawyer,” Kikwete said in an end-of-year nationwide address shown on television on Friday.
Africa’s fourth biggest gold producer has enjoyed relative stability in a volatile region and has held four multi-party elections since 1995. However, critics say the country’s principal law, adopted in 1977 when Tanzania was under one-party rule, favours the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and denies citizens fundamental rights and liberties. The CCM has been in power since independence from Britain in 1961.
Opposition leaders want to limit presidential powers, introduce electoral reforms and allow independent candidates to stand for parliament and as president. Among their demands are a change in the law to allow presidential results to be challenged in court and the formation of an independent electoral commission. “We have inherited the existing constitution from the founders of our nation … we need a new constitution that will guide our nation to the next 50 years by safeguarding peace, national unity and greater development,” Kikwete said.
Political analysts have said the country faces the possibility of further violent clashes if the government rejected calls for a new charter.