Wednesday, September 29, 2010



By Chambi Chachage

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

This is a sequel to my article on ‘Election Campaigns and Politics of Performance.’ Therein we looked at the power of performance. Now we look at the power of psychology and personality.

It is quite clear now that Dr. Wilbroad Slaa’s decision to run as a presidential candidate has tilted the balance of power. Now the debate is no longer whether the ruling party’s candidate will get a landslide victory as in the previous election. Rather, it is how much of that victory will be cut.

To the more optimistic, who draws inspiration from the rise of Barack Obama to
the presidency of the US against all odds, everything is possible. However, to
the more cautious who have not forgotten how the then celebrated Augustine Mrema
did not become the president in 1995, this is a delusional hype. ‘Yes Slaa Can’
is thus pitted against ‘No Slaa Cannot’ become president now.

Frankly, I am one of those sceptics and cynics who think it needs nothing short
of a miracle for Slaa to win. But there is something in this election that is so
different from previous elections. It is coming at a time when for a combination
of reasons many more people have registered to vote.

So, it is difficult to have a situation, like the one we had in 1995, when one
opposition party’s candidate blamed the massive crowds who attended his
campaigns for his loss. Why? Simply because they could not and did not vote as
they were not registered. This time the crowd matters.

As I said during the registration period, a number of people – including many
youth – have registered not necessarily because they want(ed) to vote. All they
– indeed we – (need)ed was a card that will help one, particularly the
unemployed, have a sense of identification when one has to open a bank account
or, as a colleague alerted me recently, to register a sim card. It is in this
regard that at 19,670, 631 – the official figure in the National Electoral
Commission’s (NEC) permanent voter’s register – nearly half of the population is
eligible to vote in this election.

Now, regardless of political parties’ weaknesses in data storage and processing,
it is a well known statistical fact that, in terms of membership, the ruling
party can hardly boast a quarter of that number. This implies that many of those
who have registered, including myself, are the swing voters. We can swing either
way in terms of the personality and policy of the candidate.

This is what happened in 2005 when the ruling party fielded a very attractive
personality. It is now happening as one of the opposition parties has fielded a
very influential personality. But that, in itself, is not enough to make Slaa
overcome the strength or experience of the ruling party electioneering
machinery. It is another factor, what I call a reverse bystander effect that can

In Social Psychology a ‘bystander effect’ happens when a number of people – the
bystanders – in an emergency situation increases. This cause a diffusion of
responsibility as they end up thinking that someone else will intervene. In such
cases an emergency can simply pass on unattended to.

One can hardly claim it to be treason to state that in a way the country has
been in a ‘state of emergency’. The war on grand corruption is too overwhelming.
Its attendant impoverishment is unbearable. The voters are desperate for change.
Slaa is indeed using this as his policy ace card.

What I am observing so far is some sort of a reverse bystander – or maybe I
should call it ‘byvoter’ – effect. Increasingly people are deciding to vote for
Slaa since they think most people will vote for the ruling party’s candidate
anyway. Coupled with the massive voters’ awareness and election campaigns that
are going on, it is possible that Slaa will win the presidential seat.

But, again, it is also quite possible that Slaa will be a ‘lame’ president since
it is very likely that the ruling party will have majority seats in the
parliament. Now I am not very sure how the Constitution is well prepared to deal
with such likelihood. One thing I am very sure of: Such an eventuality will open
a new chapter in Tanzania’s quest for democratic constitutional reform.

So Slaa may not become president. Yet his candidature is democratizing us.
Either way he wins.

© Chambi Chachage