3 July 2010

Uganda: Is Adult Suffrage a Solution to Independents Who Are Undermining Multiparty Democracy?

Kampala — What are the views of the NRM and the opposition on the topic of the week? Sunday Vision pits opposition columnist Wafula Oguttu against Government representative Ofwono Opondo


A few hours before I returned home to write this piece, I had just attended a quite inspirational function in Cardinal Wamala Hall at Christ the King Church, Kampala.

At the function, a non-partisan political pressure group called Ssuubi 2011 was formally launched. Ssuubi, started by the youth of Buganda, means hope.

Feeling betrayed and angered by the fact that all the past so-called liberators had only liberated themselves and turned into new oppressors, Ssuubi promoters want to fight fear and rekindle hope and energy in Ugandans, most especially, young ones so that they engage in a peaceful self-liberation struggle.

I saw so much enthusiasm of the hundreds of young people in the hall, my heart was overflowing with warmth. I thought the Buganda youth had lit a great fire that the youth from other parts of Uganda should spread countrywide.

As I listened to those young people pouring out their hearts, I saw big hope in the future of Uganda.

My mind then wandered back to what I had seen on TV a few days ago about the recent NRM National Delegates Conference at Namboole Stadium.

There, I had seen a valueless gathering of about 10,000 uninspiring, unconfident people reduced to fighting for allowances and other people's personal wars.

Among those people I could see those accused of mismanaging NAADS, CHOGM, Global Fund, GAVI, UPE, USE and squandering money meant for health centres.

I was, therefore, amused to hear that those same people had passed a resolution to the effect that all their party primaries, except for party flag bearer, would be elected through universal adult suffrage in order to sort out the issue of independents and bribery!

No Ugandan party, without access to state funds, can afford such primaries.

I dare also say that very few poor NRM candidates will have a chance of winning in those primaries.

It is those who have accumulated illegal wealth from public coffers who will buy their victories.

Actually, we should expect more falling out and more independents instead.

Besides, if these primaries were to involve all parties it would confuse the ordinary voter and cause voter fatigue. I know there is a huge number of non-NRM members who also registered in the yellow books, either out of fear or for purposes of okuleembeka, getting a "good ID" or as a political strategy.

Our rulers should have talked about the primaries of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), People With Disabilities (PWDs), workers and the youth as well.

We in the opposition have serious issues with these which we want sorted out before the 2011 general elections.

We are expecting from the Electoral Commission the voters' registers and constituency demarcations for all those interest groups.


Since 2005 when some political parties held their 'primaries' many candidates who lost opted to stand for local councils and Parliament as 'independents' especially those from NRM, UPC and DP claiming there was internal manipulation in the use of electoral colleges.

UPC and DP that had been dormant for two decades and accustomed to waywardness used structures last elected in 1980 or handpicked people to the electoral colleges leading to the falling out with the parties of people like Cecilia Ogwal, Omara Atubo, Ben Wacha, Okullu Epak, Aggrey Awori, Nasser Sebaggala and Michael Mabbikke among others.

In the NRM, there was ill-preparedness during the formation and elections of its organs to constitute the electoral colleges at various levels, which led to a sketchy, incomplete and not fully reliable membership registers.

Administrative malaise, lack of resources, time constraints and incomptent election staff left room for some leaders to manipulate the processes, leaving bitterness among contestants and supporters alike.

As a result, even genuine complaints could not be addressed in time leaving many candidates with no viable option except to contest as 'independents' while some were in fact bad losers motivated by calculated greed and opportunism. And since then there have been moves both in and outside Parliament to have the Constitution amended to bar the so-called 'independents' from contesting for elections under a multiparty dispensation.

Such efforts have been raised during the NRM's NEC meetings but rejected by most delegates led by President Yoweri Museveni.

NRM has now amended its constitution to abolish electoral colleges in favour of universal NRM membership adult suffrage during the party primaries for LC and parliamentary flag-bearers, ostensibly to reduce or eliminate 'independents' from emerging.

It is hoped that adult suffrage makes it very difficult to manipulate the process since the number of voters is bigger. But this is not entirely correct because there have been petitions in the main elections were adult suffrage is used.

The solution lies in each party ensuring a transparent and clean internal process as well as punitive action, including the disqualification of those found culpable.

I say ostensibly because as an insider I know that there are many reasons why the so-called "independents," many of whom should correctly be called "bad losers," emerged during the 2005 primaries and subsequent by-elections. Apart from the reasons already given above, their 'political godfathers' who have invested in propping up candidates will ensure that if their preferred 'candidates' don't get elected in primaries they will bring them back as 'independents'.

Some become 'independents' to blackmail their parties and timid competitors so that they buy them out with money.

President Museveni has consistently argued that we preached 'individual merit politics' for two decades which got engrained in the people's minds and it would be wrong to apply punitive measures against them.

Also, the framers of the constitution made political rights fundamental and they did not envisage forcing Ugandans to join parties. They were left at liberty to participate either as a group or individuals, so 'independents' should be left alone and time and sensitisation about its futility will triumph at some point in the future.

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