KAMPALA– The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has on Tuesday, August 6, started scrutinising the electoral reforms that were tabled by Government.
The proposal to regulate independent political candidates vying for elections as expected has received fierce rejection from the lawmakers.
The Attorney General, William Byaruhanga tabled five bills in response to the Supreme Court recommendation in the 2016 Presidential petition by former Premier, Amama Mbabazi.
The bills tabled include; The Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Political Parties and Organisation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
At today’s meeting, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Kahinda Otafire led the Government side to introduce the bill and was accompanied by the Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana as well as the Deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake, plus a team of officials from the Electoral Commission.
In one of its amendments, the executive is seeking to curtail the influence of independent politicians with the bill stipulating that a person is only eligible to stand for election as an independent if that person is not a member of a registered political party or organisation.
It states that the Independent candidate should have ceased to be a member of a political party or organisation twelve months prior to nomination or he or she should never have been registered as a member of any political party or organisation.
The first lawmaker to criticise the proposal was the Bugweri County MP, Abdu Katuntu who said the move was being used to suffocate people to make them belong to specific political parties.
He argued that political parties have their weaknesses which are often characterised by mistreatment of their members.
“We are talking about democracy. The law should be used to promote democracy not suffocate political content, don’t make political parties prisons. The law should help make them attractive to recruitment. The process of recruitment and retention is solely on them (political parties) not the law, the parties should be palatable for people to retain,” he said.
The Committee Chairperson, Markson Oboth also said;
“The concern for the members is that is a political party a prison? Discharge is for prison, by the time the person chooses to go independent; there is already divorce and separation. Do you expect there will be a farewell party?” he quizzed rhetorically.
The stance was further backed up by the Mitooma Woman MP, Jovah Kamateeka who stated.
“I don’t know why we want to use the law to interfere with internal democracies in the parties. Why can’t the parties deal with this themselves? Why are we doing this at national level rather than at party level?”
However, Hon Rukutana defended the provision arguing that it is aimed at reducing the number of independents within Parliament and also grow Uganda’s multiparty democracy.
“These laws are made by people. What do they say about Uganda’s political system? The people of Uganda, through a referendum, chose to proceed by multiparty political system which has its rules and regulations. There should be regulations for political parties could seemingly interfere with general freedoms of an individual but we have to do that because we have chosen a multiparty system,” He said.
Hon Rukutana’s argument attracted a prolonged argument between him, Hon Katuntu and Hon Wilfred Niwagaba which prompted Minister Kahinda to save face by conceding to have the provision dropped.
The Minister said that while it is in the interest of the Executive to grow political parties and have them regulated while operating a multiparty system, the parties aren’t mature.
“The fact that we have all these independents is something wrong is indicative of shortcomings of political party election regime unless we perfect that we must allow people room to breathe,” he noted.
Hon Rukutana followed suit and proposed to have the words discharged from the political party within twelve months removed but Katuntu told him that his concession isn’t good enough.
“Even that isn’t good enough. Go think about issues we are raising. You are actually taking away the right. Since you say we regulate anything, why not say even political parties that are found to have rigged should be barred from fielding candidates in the next elections,” Hon Katuntu asserted.