Saturday April 26 2014

Lack of clear party ideology is recipe for confusion

By Margaret Wokuri Madanda

The question of ideological inclination among Ugandan political parties remains a daunting issue with many parties choosing to play hide and seek hoping against hope that one day, the question of ideology can go away.

Unfortunately, the nagging question keeps manifesting itself many times threatening to tear apart individuals within the parties. Ms Dorothy Tuma in her article in the Daily Monitor of April 21, asked what Ugandan political parties stand for.
Contrary to Ms Tuma’s assertion that it is only Uganda Federal Alliance whose ideology is clear, there are also other parties like the Conservative Party whose belief in monarchism and environmental conservation has been consistent.
The Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) was previously a centre-left party that believed in social justice. However, UPC has of recent stated that they have no problem with monarchies implying an amendment of the party’s belief.

Chapter 2 (6) (i) of the National Resistance Movement –party (NRM) states that; ‘NRM is a national, broad-based, inclusive, democratic, non sectarian, multi-ideological, multi-interest, and progressive mass organisation.’ If the NRM party was a person, his/her religious affiliation, would be Muslim, Protestant, Catholic and pagan (multi-ideological) – strength but also a weakness at the same time. Plainly put, NRM has carried forward Uganda’s post independence non- alignment position.
If there is a body corporate whose body and soul are in different places, it is the Forum for Democratic Change- Party. (FDC)

Most of the FDC documents like its constitution, the platform and manifestos emphasise social justice depicting a leaning towards social democratic ideology, yet many party officials will say FDC is a centre –right party like the Democratic Party.
Indeed within FDC, there are social democrats, conservatives akin to republicans in the US, then there are also monarchist and others who given an opportunity, would simply hang the corrupt at Constitutional Square putting them at the extreme left like communist China and Cuba.
Finally, there are pure liberals now in court against the recently signed anti-homosexuality Act.

Two reasons explain this ideological mix. First is that following the end of the Cold War symbolised by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, there has been less inclination towards left /or right by parties. Most of the parties now tend towards the centre; a position that can maximise vote catchment.
Secondly, it is also assumed that parties were formed in class-based societies where the rich and royals tended to belong to the conservative and republican parties while the middle class leaned towards social democracy.
Uganda, up to recent times was not a class society. The disadvantage of lack of clear ideology within parties is that there is lack of clarity as most voters tend to see no difference between parties.
Secondly, there is often lack of clear cut guiding principles when it comes to critical policy issues. The recently passed anti-homosexuality Act and anti-pornography Act are good examples.

In America, the position of individuals on the two Acts would simply have been determined by the parties they belong.
There is hope that with the increasing gap between the rich and poor, rural and urban, educated and uneducated, class based parties are going to emerge. There is no way NRM will hold onto the claim of being a mass party when few of its members count their money on weighing machines while the majority members are unsure of the next meal.
There is no way the emerging middle class who want to cruise their fuel guzzlers will be in the same party with the increasing boda boda riders and street venders.
I do not envisage much harmony in my FDC, where one group of people think the best approach to engage the ruling regime is to take it head –on while another group thinks the best option is to sit at a round table.
Even if both sides agreed and caused regime change, taking critical decisions on policy issues would remain a cause of disagreement.