By Mohammed Khelef Ghassany
The exercise of registering voters in the Permanent Voter Registrar (PVR) in Pemba has been brought to a standstill for more than two weeks now. It could be too early to say when it would resume as the situation is still at shaky.
However, there is one fact on the drawing board: in spite of its necessity to the democratization process, the exercise that prohibits a good number of citizens from participating in their civil and democratic rights can not be called democratic. And for those who have been following media reportage on what is going on in Pemba, as for some of us who were there by the time things worsened, we can paradoxify the process as ‘undemocratic practice in the democratization.’
Understanding the undemocratic nature of this exercise, one has to go back to the beginning, seeing why and when it was to be halted. Four institutions within the Government of Zanzibar are being involved in this issue. The first and the foremost is the House of Representatives, which in 2005 passed the law that makes a Zanzibari Identity Card (Zan ID) a necessity for a Zanzibari to be registered as an eligible voter. This law is described by some renowned lawyers, such as Abubakar Khamis Bakar, as unconstitutional. The late Prof. Haroub Othman is still on record to have aimed at sending the whole question of Zan ID to the court of law, arguing that it is unconstitutional and anti-civil rights. God took him before he realized his ambition.
Second is the Office of Zanzibari Identity Registration that is responsible of making sure that every Zanzibari does have a Zan ID. Its Director Mohammed Juma Ame has been permanently quoted saying that they have already issued more than “500,000 Zan IDs,” but when you go the actual field in both Pemba and Unguja, you meet thousands of people who have been refused their IDs. One can ask himself, to whom those 500,000 IDs have been given?
Third, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) that is responsible of making sure that every eligible voter is registered in the PVR. Claimed to be directed by laws of the land and regulations of the game, ZEC seems to put in dilemma. On one side, they accept that they are working on the law which is unconstitutional by nature, but that is not their problem. Salim Qassim, ZEC Director, was on this July quoted to agree that taking Zan ID as the one and only necessity for voting registration is likely unconstitutional, but he was so ambiguous by saying that for them (ZEC) they follow what the laws tell them.
Fourth, and of course at the bottom line, there is a government itself which is represented by shehas – the last level but powerful units of Zanzibar government structure – who have been playing a very big role in the “politics of the PVR” as 2005 TEMCO report calls it.
The shehas are fanatically ruling party members who are ready to do everything in their power to make sure that their party is winning or, at least, their opposition is losing. Having less opposition members in the PVR seems to be a part of their mission for the time being; therefore, they seem to use every tool – physical and psychological – to hit their target.
For example, one Zanzibari from Kiuyu Minungwini told this author that when she went to her Sheha to ask for a form which she could use to obtain her Zan ID, the sheha responded satirically that he neither had a form nor a sare. Sare is a Swahili word used to mean uniform, normally worn by school students in Zanzibar. Upon hearing that, the lady swore that she could never again go to that sheha. This was, but, a psychological weapon in the side of sheha to hit his target. Shehas do have the power, actually absolute power, to decide who is a Zanzibari enough to be given Zan ID.
Therefore, these four institutions within the government of Zanzibar are very involved in the whole saga of ‘vitambulisho’ as Zanzibaris call their Zan IDs. But overtly both the government and the ruling party (CCM) say that all is OK with the PVR in Zanzibar. If not the CUF’s Seif Sharif Hamad’s incitation, says South Pemba Regional Commissioner Juma Tindwa, things would have been so smooth.
Mr Hamad himself has also been quoted to say that, if telling people to fight for their rights is incitation, “I will definitely go on doing it again and again.” So he did and still does. His party’s argument seems to be constitutionally sound. Article 7 (2) of Zanzibar Constitution has it very clear that, no individual Zanzibari shall be deprived his right to vote unless he fails to meet the criteria which are mentioned in that article. Zan ID is not among those criteria.
Moreover, subsection (4) of the same article directs that: “Apart from the criteria that have been mentioned in this section, there shall be no any other reason that could prevent a Zanzibari to exercise his right to vote.” Yet the House of Representatives in 2005, by that time dominated only by CCM members added subsection 12 (1) (b) which makes it compulsory for a Zanzibari to have a Zan ID for him to be able to exercise his civil and democratic right of voting.
May be it was upon a realization of all these controversies, then the Ole electorates decided to do what has happened to a bravery move. They decided to call the PVR to an end demanding that every eligible voter is registered or no one is registered. Bwana Abdallah bin Ali (68) was there at Mchangamdogo registration station on 3rd August, 2009 with his 20 year-old son.
Bwana Abdallah had already been registered as a Zanzibari but his son, Hamad, was denied the form two years ago, because their sheha did not ‘recognise’ him as Bwana Abdallah’s son. On this day, Bwana Abdallah said he was there to make sure that either his son is registered as a voter or the government tells them what their country is. Otherwise, as once Malcolm X put it “it’s either liberty to everybody of liberty to nobody”, Bwana Abdallah swore that no one would be registered. Though the government did not tell these father and son what their country is, but ZEC was forced to pack and go!
It was after only after these poor people of Ole constituency took a risky decision, then the whole nation quivered and the government was alarmed. Then the international community through the European Union, United States, Japan and Canada released their concern. Overtly, they showed their uncertainty with the process of PVR and to the democratization at large in Zanzibar. They advised both governments to make sure that individual and social rights are being respected in the exercise. As far as international politics is concerned, these simple words mean a lot in the diplomatic arena.
It is a matter of wait-and-see if that meaning will be materialized by Tanzania and Zanzibar governments. But with the way the politics of PVR is being practiced in Zanzibar, the democratization process is marred with a lot of bumps and uncertainties. And with a lot of people in Pemba not recognized as Zanzibaris, their promise of ‘haundundwa, hauchezwa’ (neither will the game be started nor will it be continued) seems to be going on to stand.
Source: The Citizen, 26 August 2009