All options are now open for Frederick Sumaye, 69, Tanzania’s former prime minister-turned opposition politician after ditching the main opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema).
His announcement appeared to have further weakened Tanzania’s beleaguered opposition ahead of next year’s election, especially as political pundits close to him say that he is preparing to run for the presidency should the opposition coalition fail to field a joint candidate. This is the last thing Tanzania’s opposition needs.
Mr Sumaye’s move comes barely days to Chadema’s internal elections to be held on December 18, with incumbent chairman Freeman Mbowe—already in power for 15 years—in line to retain his seat for another five years in the absence of challengers, and with Mr Sumaye’s exit.
But whether he rejoins the opposition or defects back to the ruling party, Mr Sumaye’s political life is at a crossroads, and all eyes are on him as he declares himself a sort of freelance operator within the Tanzanian political landscape.
“I am now a politician without a party. My aim is to make myself available for any party which may seek my services, whether it is CCM, ACT-Wazalendo, TLP, or even Chadema,” was his cryptic response to questions about his next political aspirations.
Although speculation remains rife, most political watchers have dismissed Mr Sumaye’s relevance in the shaping of Tanzanian politics going forward to 2020 and beyond.
“Whatever future political moves he makes will be largely symbolic and won’t change any dynamics within Chadema, CCM or any other party,” one pundit said bluntly.
Mr Sumaye, who served as premier from 1995 to 2005, said his decision to quit Chadema was prompted by pressure from pro-Mbowe loyalists for him to withdraw his challenge for the party’s chairmanship.
He claimed that the internal wrangles culminated in the sabotage of his bid to retain a zonal chairmanship during Chadema zonal elections on November 28.
As the incumbent and sole candidate, Mr Sumaye garnered just 28 out of 76 votes cast, and accused the pro-Mbowe faction of bribing voters to vote against him.
His complaints of a lack of democracy within Chadema bear nasty echoes of Mr Mbowe’s own complaints of foul play in the run-up to recent nationwide civic elections which led Chadema to spearhead a boycott of the national election by most opposition parties, paving the way for a landslide CCM victory.
The November 24 civic poll was to elect ward councillors and local government leaders, and was seen as a litmus test of what to expect in next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
But Mr Sumaye’s political woes are not unique. In 2015, ex-PM Edward Lowassa staged a sensational defection—by Tanzanian politics—from the ruling CCM to the main opposition party.
But for the next fortnight or so, all eyes will be on how Chadema handles its own democratic poll test, even as Mr Sumaye continues to contemplate on his next political move.