Is Legislature fading as the “people’s house”?
Posted Thursday, January 17 2013 at 09:53
As we speak, the NRM caucus or to be more accurate 155 MPs or a little more than half of MPs elected on the NRM party ticket are deliberating on their party’s agenda at their annual retreat in Kyankwanzi.
The ruling party is entitled to regularly brief and whip its members to support its programmes in Parliament. NRM’s meetings assume a higher profile because it is the ruling party. Leading members of NRM’s executive occupy national posts including the Speaker of Parliament- who is not attending, the Prime Minister and a number of other cabinet ministers.
Ruling party caucuses are not an unusual feature in modern democracies. In the United Kingdom, the 1922 Committee comprises of the backbench Conservative Party.
Confidence motions in the Prime Minister normally originate in this committee. In 1990, one of the most powerful Prime Ministers of all time Margaret Thatcher lost support of a significant number of members of the 1922 Committee when members of her government first resigned and then ran against her in a secret ballot while she attended an EU Summit in Paris. The high drama ended with the resignation of her then deputy Lord Geoffrey Howe the only surviving member of her 1979 cabinet.
Other parties run things a bit differently.
In South Africa and Tanzania this is a function of the National Executive Committee or Central Committee can recall key leaders with little or no ado. Thabo Mbeki had to resign as the President of the Union of South Africa several years ago when the ANC voted against him.
The Central Executive Committee of the CCM has been “electing presidents” in Tanzania since 1985 when Julius Kambarage Nyerere voluntarily tendered his resignation and left office.
In the case of Uganda’s NRM the relationship between the Parliamentary party, the Central Executive Committee and the Delegates Conference is a bit more amorphous. It seems the preserve of the Parliamentary party does not extend to reprimanding and removing the nation’s top executive.
Neither does the Central Executive Committee whose resolutions have gone unimplemented for years including one directing the Prime Minister to stand down from his party position as NRM Secretary General.
If media reports are correct, a request by Buyaga MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire, a parliamentary chair, asking the Party Chairman to reconsider his stay in office is likely to be ignored as well.
These “soft-powers” are an important check between the ruling party and its members who are also office holders.
The genesis of the current dispute in the parliamentary party is basically backbencher unhappiness with the performance of the front-bench.
Members of Parliament hold an important oversight function over government on behalf of their electorate. They share law making powers with the President. The President’s principal role is to implement the will of the legislature by enforcing laws and policies proposed by the executive but passed by Parliament. When this primary relationship breaks down, there is hardly a need for Parliament.
The former American President Richard Milhouse Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment when he set on a deliberate course to subvert the course of a criminal investigation relating to the Watergate break-in. Successive US presidents have gotten into trouble for subverting the will of Congress and gotten a number of reprimands from Congress for doing so.
Ronald Wilson Reagan got into trouble for arming Iran by authorising Israel to secretly arm Iran and Contra rebels in Nicaragua out of Israeli foreign aid.
George W Bush and his successor Barack H Obama have expanded the use of signing statements to express written disagreements with Congressional legislation limiting their authority. However, American style “presidentialism” is different from our hybrid system because the President and his cabinet are not members of the legislative branch.
They share rule-making authority but this can never be compared to purely legislative prerogatives like levying taxes, ratifying treaties, authorising borrowing and other prerogatives enjoyed by the Congress.
The posturing in the stand-off between Parliament and the Executive this time seems to have escalated on what the role of the President will be in the future vis a vis that of Parliament.