Forty NRM-leaning independent MPs and three ministers may be forced to relinquish their parliamentary seats as early as 2015 if they wish to seek re-election to the 10th Parliament through a political party platform.
Independent legislators such as West Budama South MP Jacob Oboth Oboth concede that unless the law is changed, it would stand in the way of their wish to seek re-election in 2016 on a party ticket.
“That is the law unless it is amended…,” said Oboth, an NRM-leaning independent.
NRM plans to conduct its party primaries in March 2015, close to 14 months before the expiry of the current Parliament’s tenure. So, independent MPs seeking the ruling party’s endorsement would have to resign before March to participate in the primaries.
“Except for a few colleagues who are opposition-leaning, close to 40 of us will not be standing in the NRM’s scheduled party primaries. Or, if we are to participate, we have to relinquish our seats,” said Oboth.
In April this year, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional Court’s ruling in George Owor versus the Attorney General and electoral commission, which said that an MP elected to Parliament as an independent cannot validly be nominated for re-election for the next Parliament through another political party unless he or she had vacated or resigned his or her seat in Parliament at the time of nomination.
The background to the case was that George Owor, a voter in West Budama North Constituency successfully challenged William Oketcho’s participation in the NRM primaries as a violation of his mandate. In its ruling, the court said that Oketcho, who had been elected to Parliament as an independent, by implication resigned or vacated his seat when he participated in the primaries.
The ruling also affects three ministers elected as independent MPs. They include Regional Affairs Minister Asuman Kiyingi (Bugabula North MP), Higher Education Minister Dr Chrysostom Muyingo (Bamunanika MP) and Local Government state minister Alex Onzima (Maracha MP).
Speaking to The Observer on December 19, Kiyingi said voters are not bothered by the legal niceties but by what an individual stands for.
“Our people know what we are. Even if by law I am an independent, the reality shows that I am sympathetic to NRM,” he said. Asked whether he will stand in the NRM primaries, Kiyingi said time will tell.
“Cabinet is considering amending the Constitution so that a remedy is found,” he said, without delving into details.
Interviewed on December 19 about his electoral prospects, Gerald Karuhanga, the Youth MP (Western) said “Certainly, I have not yet made up my mind as to whether I will stand in FDC or remain an independent. It will depend on the circumstances – both legal and the political terrain.”
To circumvent this electoral hurdle, independent MPs are pushing for a constitutional amendment.
“We have met the president. He knows how we became independents and he is supportive of us,” Oboth said, adding that they have already forwarded their proposed amendment.
Oboth said the framers of the law were short-sighted.
“There should be a transitional period so that freedom to associate is not limited. And, as such, the provision should be amended so that it is not applicable to those who cross to political parties within one year to the elections,” he said.
Oboth and Fox Odoi, the West Budama North MP, lobbied to have a transitional period of one year but when the matter went to cabinet, it was contested. Cabinet finally approved an inclusion of a clause to the effect that the restriction “shall not apply to a member leaving a political party or organisation within six months before a general election.”
However, The Observer has learnt that on December 19, Oboth took a new proposal to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Parliament.
“The object of this proposal and amendment is to amend article 83 of the constitution…having regard to the experience gained in operating the constitution since it was promulgated in 1995 and the subsequent amendments ushering in multiparty dispensation,” reads Oboth’s letter, dated December 18 2014 and received a day later by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Sources in cabinet say the ruling party is likely to vouch for a compromise favourable to independents. The NRM, according to sources, may be persuaded to hold its primaries within one year to the general elections.
“Some of those independents are needed for strategic reasons and the NRM cannot afford to lose them,” said a source in reference to Ssempija and Muyingo who are needed as senior NRM mobilisers in greater Masaka and greater Luweero, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission says it is ready for any eventuality, according to its spokesperson Jotham Taremwa.
“The law is clear so if they [independents] participate [before the amendment is made] then we have to organise by-elections,” said Taremwa. “Obviously we cannot organise the elections within six months to the general elections.”
Source : The Observer