In 2016, will individual merit defeat party politics?
Posted Monday, October 7 2013 at 01:00
KAMPALA- Along the bumpy road to the 2016 elections, “individual merit” appears to be gaining ground in spite of the multiparty democracy system in place, raising questions about whether political parties are still viable vehicles through which one must run for office.
A huge majority of Uganda’s voters (92.5 per cent) supported restoring multiparty politics in a referendum held in August 2005. For years, President Museveni opposed political parties, but internal and international pressure for more democracy, changed his position. Previously, in support of the “Movement” system, Mr Museveni had expressed fears that a return to political parties would divide people along sectarian lines.
There is a growing belief among political analysts that, with chaotic primaries, authoritarian party rules and in a situation where politics has been turned into a profession from which its purveyors now earn a living, it is doubtful that in the 2016 elections, political parties will hold off the wave of candidates for parliamentary and local council elections.
Currently, there are 43 independent MPs, up from 29 in the 8th Parliament. The analysts predict that if political parties continue to silence members under the guise of collective responsibility, in 2016, independents will “run the show” in the 10th Parliament.
Now that the Constitutional Court on September 6 issued a disputed judgement that it was wrong for Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to maintain the four expelled NRM MPs in Parliament when the party that sponsored them to the House had expelled them, the analysts urged that this is not only going to weaken the 9th Parliament. They believe it will give rise to more independents as an apparent expression of a vote of no confidence in a dictatorial multiparty system.
At least 30 independent MPs are NRM leaning. They contested in the chaotic ruling party primaries but lost. But the fact that the voters humiliated the candidates fronted by political parties in a multiparty democracy, fundamentally reaffirms the import of Article 1 of the 1995 Constitution that “power belongs to the people”.
At first, they were viewed as ‘pariahs’ in the House, but when the number kept increasing, they approached the serving table in a second multiparty Parliament and demanded that their rights be respected as the people’s representatives.
The Speaker, who is their chief whip, guaranteed that they are well represented on various committees and asked the Leader of the Opposition to accommodate them. They have formed a caucus through which to assert their authority. Some have even been appointed ministers, an indication that it is still about the individual.
In trying to understand the likely contest between political parties and individual merit, former presidential aspirant, Beti Kamya, who now heads Uganda Federal Alliance, says the debate surrounding the ‘rebel MPs’ is neither about a strong Parliament versus strong political parties, nor Parliament versus the Executive, but rather, it is about strong individuals in Parliament versus strong political parties in Parliament.
According to Ms Kamya, the former MP for Rubaga North, nurturing individual merit MPs is like “feeding baby chicks on layers marsh; they won’t produce quality eggs, and certainly not in desirable quantities!” She is of the view that a dictatorial president could not ask for a better playfield than a Parliament full of individual merit MPs!”
While the advocates for individual merit argue that MPs are elected by people of mixed political leaning to represent their common, not partisan interests, Ms Kamya said the pro-parties’ argument agrees that while MPs might be elected by voters of different political affiliations, MPs that seek election on political party platforms get elected on clear political ideologies and party manifestos, which form the social contract they have with the people.
Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, one of the independent minds in Parliament, said the existing political parties have taken a lot of battering from the “ugly politics” of the last 50 years. Personalised rule as opposed to institutional rule, has corrupted the process.
Mr Mpuuga observes that parties as institutions of governance have never been given a chance to function to their full potential by way of mobilisation, identification and deployment of their best cadres. As such, the MP said, for any of the existing parties to remain relevant, they have to rebrand, and position themselves in a manner that will appeal to the changing structure of the population.
More independent MPs expected
“After rebranding, the surviving parties shall require a joint platform to articulate their agenda come 2016,” Mr Mpuuga said.
“Failure by parties to posture anew, we shall see more independents seeking and winning, defeating the whole idea of politics which is supposed to be a collective game. The opposition needs to present a credible team to the population; the masses seem not ready for another cobble of eaters. They need a team they can trust; the exhaustion is vivid on the faces of the people,” he said.
In his analysis, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba predicts that in 2016 the number of independent MPs is going to go up. He recalls that the NRM started off as an individual merit organisation that was all embracing and when political parties came into being, most Ugandans still looked at it that way.
He said the winner of 2016 will have to have formal Memorandum of Understanding with independent MPs and maybe two other political parties to be assured of two-thirds of the vote in Parliament. If NRM had not moved to deal with legislators it felt had become rebellious, he said the number of rebel MPs who would be speaking openly against NRM party positions would be over 100 by now.
The debate according to Mr Nicholas Opiyo, the secretary general of Uganda Law Society, who spoke in his personal capacity, should be focused on how to make political parties strong since strong political parties strengthens democracy. Mr Opiyo has the rider though: provided the parties are internally democratic in and of themselves. “Individual merit-based election as a norm is risky, especially given that individuals are more susceptible to compromise than political organisations,” Mr Opiyo said.