By Faustine Rwambali
Published May 18th 2004 in The East African
TANZANIA will in 2005 introduce a system of proportional representation that will see the proportion of women Members of Parliament rise to 30 per cent or more, while the total number of MPs will grow to 350.
The current 295-member parliament has 63 women, 12 of whom are Constituent MPs. Special seats are divided among the ruling Chama Cha Mapindizu with 41, the Civic United Front (CUF) with four while Chadema, TLP, UDP and the Zanzibar House of Representatives have one each.
In addition to this, there are two women MPs who are appointees of the president. Constitutionally, the president can appoint up to 10 MPs from among Tanzania citizens.
The decision to introduce proportional representation in the Tanzania parliament with effect from the next general elections scheduled for October 2005 is in line with a commitment by Commonwealth and Southern African Development Community heads of state to have women constitute at least 30 per cent of constituent and nominated MPs in their legislative bodies by 2005.
But the decision has been criticised by CUF, which says the opposition was not involved. "As of now we do not have even the draft of the proposed changes, and they did not take into consideration the recommendations made by the opposition," CUF national chairman, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba said.
But the Speaker of the National Assembly, Pius Msekwa, said: "Changes in the running of the government are made by those in power; the opposition should know this fact."
In a written statement to The EastAfrican last week, Mr Msekwa, who chaired a committee mandated to study and make recommendations on the proposed new system, said Tanzania is keen to involve women in politics and must implement the Commonwealth and SADC commitments.
Msekwa said another reason for the changes in the electoral system was the government's acceptance of the National Electoral Commission of Tanzania (NEC) recommendation that, in addition to the directly elected Members of Parliament and the special seats reserved for women, there should be another category of members who will enter parliament through a system of proportional representation. The NEC made the recommendation in its report on the first multiparty general election held in October 1995.
The mechanism for the attainment of these objectives has been approved and the composition of parliament would be 350 MPs. The present categories of MPs will be retained.
This means 231 constituent MPs will be elected directly by voters, five will be elected by the Zanzibar House of Representatives, 10 nominated by the President of the United Republic, and the Attorney General, who will be an ex-officio MP, adding up to a total of 247.
Mr Msekwa said that under such an arrangement, 103 seats would be filled through the proportional representation method – equivalent to 41.7 per cent of the mentioned categories of MPs who total 247.
"But in order to ensure that the minimum 30 per cent requirement for women MPs is achieved, 75 of the 103 seats will be reserved for women candidates only," Mr Msekwa explained.
The method for allocating the 103 proportional representation seats to the various political parties will entail each participating party preparing its list of up to 75 women candidates. The lists will then be submitted to the Electoral Commission before the specified election-day.
When the ballots in the parliamentary elections have been counted and totals obtained by each political party countrywide have been verified, the NEC will allocate the 103 seats in proportion to the total number of valid votes obtained by each political party, with a proviso that any party that fails to secure at least five per cent of the number of valid votes will not be allocated any such seats.
He added that considering that many other women MPs would be elected in the constituencies and yet others would be among the 10 MPs nominated by the president, and among the five MPs elected by the Zanzibar House of Representatives, the SADC and Commonwealth objectives would be definitely achieved.
According to Mr Msekwa, the recommended system is being practiced in the legislatures of Scotland and Wales in the United Kingdom and also that of Lesotho in Southern Africa.
"In all these jurisdictions, the system has proved to be very beneficial both in terms of relating more meaningfully the total number of valid votes obtained by a political party countrywide to the number of parliamentary seats obtained by that party, and in terms of increasing the number of women representatives in parliament," he said. With these changes, Tanzania will follow South Africa, Swaziland, Seychelles and Mozambique in achieving the SADC goal. The three countries rank among the world's top 10 with respect to womens' representation in parliament.
However, the percentage of women in politics still remains low among SADC countries. By 2000, womens' involvement in politics among SADC countries was: South Africa (29.8 per cent), Mozambique (28.4per cent), Seychelles (24 per cent), Swaziland (7.5 per cent), Mauritius (7.6 per cent), Malawi (8.5 per cent), Botswana (9 per cent) and Tanzania (15 per cent). In 2000, the average percentage of women in parliament for the SADC region was 17.9 per cent, higher than the African average of 11 per cent.
Kenya has 18 women MPs, nine of whom are elected, while Uganda has 71 women legislators in its 293-member house, 53 of whom are nominated to represent each district. Women in Rwanda – where thanks to a new constitution, 24 out of 80 seats in the lower house of parliament and six out of 20 in the upper house are reserved for women – now top the world rankings of women in national parliaments, with 49 per cent of representation compared with a world average of 15.1 per cent.