Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan reached out to the opposition Thursday as she vowed to defend democracy and basic freedoms in the East African country, which had seen a slide into autocratic rule under her predecessor.
Democratic rights as well as individual and press freedom “are important for stimulating development and peace,” she said in a maiden televised policy speech before parliament.
Hassan, who became Tanzania’s first female president in March, said she would discuss with the opposition “how best they will conduct their political activities for the benefit of our country”.
“In order to protect the country’s democratic freedom, I expect to meet with leaders of political parties in Tanzania to collectively put direction of running politics that will be productive and upholding interests of our country,” Hassan said.
However, this promise has been met by mixed reactions from political opposition leaders who said the statement was empty and short of reality.
“The statement should be received cautiously because there are several issues that haven’t been highlighted in her speech including the New Constitution, restriction of political activities and many others … she was supposed to announce the revival of the New Constitution writing process in order for Parliament to start the implementation process. There is huge vacuum there,” John Mnyika the Secretary General of the opposition Chadema party told The Citizen newspaper.
Mnyika said lifting the ban on political activities which was imposed by late President John Magufuli is not a matter of debate and discussion. When he took office, Magufuli argued that people should be left alone to focus on “building the country”, and political leaders should wait for the next election hold rallies. The directive affected opposition parties that rely on the period to galvanize grassroots support.
Authorities said Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style, died of a heart condition after a mysterious three-week absence, but his political opponents insisted he had coronavirus.
In power since 2015, he had been re-elected in October in an election dismissed by the opposition as a farce.
Tanzania was long seen as a haven of stability and democracy in an otherwise volatile neighbourhood, but alarm grew over Magufuli’s increasingly autocratic rule.
Most foreign media were not allowed into Tanzania to cover the 2020 presidential election in which Magufuli won a second term in a disputed vote.
Early this month, Hassan sought to distance herself from her former boss, notably saying her country’s Covid response would be science-based.