Muslims cautioned over document on elections
Minister says guidelines to be released on Friday should not cause disharmony
By Paul Dotto, Dar and Patty Magubira, Mwanza
The Government yesterday cautioned Muslim leaders against issuing a document similar to the controversial Catholic booklet containing guidelines for voters on how to choose leaders in next year's General Election.
The State Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (Policy, Co-ordination and parliamentary Affairs), Mr Philip Marmo, advised the religious leaders to avoid anything that could create disharmony in the country. He cited the Catholic Church document, which he said had sparked heated exchanges among politicians, professionals and even ordinary citizens.
But speaking in Mwanza during a requiem Mass for Bishop Anthony Mayalla, which was also attended by President Jakaya Kikwete (see separate story Page 3), top Catholic Church leader Polycarp Cardinal Pengo told the Government not to meddle in religious affairs by censoring evangelical circulars.
Cardinal Pengo was apparently responding to the recent criticism by some CCM and government officials of the Roman Catholic Church circular, which guides its followers on how to choose good leaders in the civic poll later in the year, and in next year�General Election.
Minister Marmo was reacting to the plan by leaders from the Supreme Council of Islamic Organisations and Institutions in Tanzania (Shura ya Maimamu), who have prepared a document called 'Mwongozo', which they say is intended to guide followers on important social and political issues ahead of October's civic vote and next year'selections.
However, the minister said the Government respects the freedoms of expression and worship enshrined in the Constitution.
"Religious leaders should keenly weigh and consider the possible effects before launching such documents. But I have no doubt that theirs will adhere to those principles and will not break any laws," he said.
"We believe that groups, which have been preparing directives as we approach the elections do so with good intentions of offering civic education. We don't expect them to dwell on politics and direct people on who to vote for, as this would be contrary to the Constitution," he added.
The secretary general of the Supreme Council of Islamic Organisations and Institutions in Tanzania, Sheikh Ramadhan Sanze, announced that their document on the forthcoming elections was ready and would be launched tomorrow at Mnazi Mmoja grounds in Dar es Salaam.
He said they had decided to launch it after the Government failed to take action following the release of the Catholic Church�s pastoral letter on civic rights.
Sheikh Sanze added: "We don't have any problem with the Church. Our target is the Government, which failed to respond to their document."
However, the clergyman explained that their preparations started long before the Catholics issued their pastoral letter and was, therefore, not necessarily a reaction to it.
"Even in 2005, we released similar civic education guidelines. However, what we are going to launch will now incorporate a reaction to the church document," he said.
The Shura ya Maimamu secretary general, Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, told The Citizen that more than 100 Imams from across the Mainland regions had put together a collective stand on the coming elections.
"We are not in the position to divulge the contents of the document at this point. But the main focus is on health, education, the economy, freedom of expression, and democracy," Sheikh Ponda said.
Ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi stalwart Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru, who recently added fuel to the controversy on the Catholic document by asking the Church in his contribution in Parliament in Dodoma to consider withdrawing it, arguing that it posed a threat to country, declined to comment on the Muslim leaders' initiative.
When reached for comment, the veteran politician and long-serving former Cabinet minister, posed:"Why do you ask me about this? I have no comment."
Another ruling party MP, who is also on record as having strongly opposed the Church manual, Mr Manju Msambya, of Kigoma South, also declined to comment.
Speaking in Mwanza, Cardinal Pengo said the Government's attempt to censor the Church over the document was tantamount to trying to dictate to clerics how to write their evangelical circulars.
He directed Roman Catholic bishops around the country to stop issuing such circulars if the government criticism persisted.
Cardinal Pengo denouncing the Government criticism, cited Poland's past communist government, which tried to gag religious leaders, to no avail.
"I do not want to provoke anyone by saying this, but I want to know if Tanzania today is far from Poland�s communist government, and if the country is not heading in the same direction by trying to censor clerics' circulars," he said.
This, the cardinal said, was tantamount to the government to putting itself in God's shoes "as was the case with Poland�s communist leadership".
Our sister paper, the Sunday Citizen, exclusively broke the news in June that the Catholic Church issued an elaborate document, which was being circulated to its followers around the country to educate them on the qualities to look for when voting for leaders in next year's elections.
Since then, debate has been raging countrywide, with some critics, arguing that politicians are alarmed because the Catholic booklet also calls for electoral reforms before the elections.
The Church has rejected calls by politicians to withdraw the document, arguing that those opposed to it are either supporters of the mega corruption scandals in high places or beneficiaries.
However, some analysts have warned that the acrimonious debate on the Catholic civic education blueprint might lead to divisions along religious lines if not well handled.