What’s in parliamentary system for the Opposition in Uganda?

Tuesday February 12 2019



Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba 

By Nicholas Sengoba

Word has it that the ruling NRM is toying with the idea of another constitutional amendment to adopt a parliamentary system of government. In simple terms, voters elect Members of Parliament (MPs) then the party with the most MPs automatically qualifies their presidential candidate as the national president. The voters here do not directly elect the president; the MPs do it on ‘their behalf.’ This is what happens in countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom.
In a parliamentary system, the president or the Executive derives democratic legitimacy from the ability to command the confidence of the Legislature. By implication, the Executive is also held accountable by Parliament. Currently, Uganda is run under a presidential system where the president is directly elected under universal adult suffrage.

He derives his mandate directly from the electorate. MPs also go through a similar process. So irrespective of the number of MPs a party has, the moment the winner collects 50+1 per cent of the votes, he takes office.
So what happens if Uganda adopts the parliamentary system of government? The most important development is that Independent presidential candidates, briefcase political parties and all forms of one-man shows, will be disadvantaged severely. (These ones are mostly from the Opposition. The ruling NRM is for all intents and purposes, a State party; deeply fused with the State and relies heavily on it for funding, security and other administrative structures to survive.) It will not matter much if people who are supposedly very popular like Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, a.k.a Bobi Wine, have a huge following. They will have to form political parties with aspiring MPs standing across the country to equal or surpass those of other political parties if they are to have a foot in the door. They will also have to ensure that they win sits in Parliament.

Party leaders or presidential candidates will have to be more persuasive and humble in the quest to build formidable teams since their fortunes will depend on the success of parliamentary candidates. This talks to formation of genuine political parties as serious entities. That is one thing that has been lacking in contemporary politics. It will be a huge task in our current situation mainly because it calls for huge money and organisational ability for political parties to find suitable and qualified candidates across the entire country for more than 350 parliamentary seats. So Opposition parties will have their work well cut out for them.

Secondly, the dark matter of the perennial problem of the police and security agencies taking shelter under the often misinterpreted small print of the Public Order Management Act to interfere with the activities of the Opposition. It will be quite tough seeking and getting permission from the police to go around the country first interesting people in the party, then organising those willing to elect flag bearers from among themselves. Then there is the problem of NRM dangling goodies to potential parliamentary candidates from the Opposition. We have in the past seen some being offered jobs to dissuade them from allying with the Opposition. The problem of Bobi Wine is surely not a small one.

Let us squeeze in the intriguing case of retired Maj Gen Kasirye Gwanga. He needs no introduction. His last horrific antics made enough news to warrant serious thought about him and the society in which he exists. He burnt a hired excavator of someone whom he suspected of attempting to grab the land of one his relatives. He bragged about it and nothing happened to him in a land that has so many laws and law enforcers. It also has a serious Judicial Commission of Inquiry on land matters which is impartial, free and fair to all.

Last week, he shot the tyres of singer and NRM mobiliser Catherine Kusasiira because her hangers-on had disturbed and insulted Kasirye’s ‘American son.’ In a land with a vigilant police force that recently eliminated most of its bean weevils, and the most disciplined army that celebrated Tarehe Sita on February 6, and that has zero tolerance for indiscipline, nothing has happened to Kasirye Gwanga. Kasirye Gwanga is definitely above the law and not much space will be wasted on belabouring that point.

It is the reaction from Ugandans that is quite surprising. Because Kusasiira is an NRM mobiliser, those who detest NRM and Museveni fell she had received her comeuppance. Then there is the ironic argument that since the law in Uganda does not seem to work, a person like Kusasiira, who is connected to the President and does not hesitate to tell it on the mountain while throwing her weight around, needs someone to sober her up.
Now Kasirye Gwanga achieves that by also blatantly breaking the law; intimidating and manipulating unarmed citizens with violence simply because he is a soldier.

Interestingly when armed men threaten or visit violence on the opposition, everyone goes up in arms about abusing human rights. If we cannot tell what is wrong from what is right, simply because it is happening to people whom we loath or like, then let us prepare to suffer fools gladly. But I must hasten to say that those praising Kasirye Gwanga and finding his despicable shenanigans funny, are his enemies who are supplying him rope to hang himself.
One fine day, he will mess with someone who is equally untouchable and his Quranic forty days will come to an end. That is when he will sober up and come clean.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. [email protected]
Twitter:@nsengoba