Obote's new electoral laws suffer stillbirth (Daily Monitor (Uganda))


Under the 1+3 system, an aspiring candidate had to choose one constituency from each region besides the region where his home or primary constituency was located. That is to say, a candidate whose primary constituency was Ntoroko in western Uganda had to choose one constituency from the other regions of the country the north, east and central.

As we approach the 2016 general election, we look back to 1970 when what was dubbed “the most innovative political idea from Africa” was mooted but ended in stillbirth.

The purpose was to curb tribalism and promote patriotism and nationalism in the National Assembly, because, as Jan Jelmert Jorgensen wrote, “the ideology of tribalism was more than a threat to the unity of Uganda.”
As the country neared the first nationwide election, it was deemed right to introduce new rules to tackle the threat posed by tribalism.

In 1970, president Milton Obote, also leader of the ruling party, the Uganda Peoples Congress, published “Document No.5.”

It contained a set of “proposals for new methods of election of representatives of the people to Parliament.”

This was part of a bigger document, the ‘Move to the Left’, which was being presented in phases, outlining government’s development strategy on all fronts economically, politically and socially.

The proposals envisioned a new electoral system never used anywhere in the world.

It was going to be unique to Uganda.
The new system, known as 1+3, required people aspiring to represent their districts or constituencies in the National Assembly, to stand for election in four different electoral constituencies, at the same time.

How it was to work
One was required to have a home or primary constituency and three national or secondary constituencies. At the time, Members of Parliament were not based on constituencies but districts.

By the time the electoral reforms were announced in 1970, the country was preparing for the 1971 general election which was to be the first in the country’s history.

Under the new reforms, an aspiring candidate had to choose one constituency from each region besides the region where his home or primary constituency was located.

That is to say, a candidate whose primary constituency was Ntoroko in western Uganda had to choose one constituency from the other regions of the country the north, east and central.

Under this arrangement, the candidate was supposed to campaign in all the four constituencies and it was the total count from the four that determined who would win the seat.

The candidate with the largest overall percentage of votes, combining the primary constituency and the secondary or the national constituencies, would be declared winner and take the seat in the primary constituency.

Under this law, each voter had to cast four votes, one for the candidate in the voter’s primary constituency and three other ballots for each of the three candidates who are standing in the constituency as their secondary area.

‘Innovative idea from Africa’
Writing in the book Cultural Engineering in Eastern Africa, Prof Ali Mazrui said the proposed new system was the best innovative idea to come out of Africa.

“The proposals were in many ways the most original political reform to be recommended in Uganda since independence and also represented some of the most innovative and brilliant ideas to emerge out of Africa,” Prof Mazrui wrote.

Prof Selwyn Ryan in a paper titled Electoral Engineering in Uganda praised the new system, saying it was “one of the most inventive pieces of electoral rule-making to have been advanced in the history of the theory of popular political representation”.

With this new system, the president introduced what was termed as single member-multiple districts. It was aimed at broadening the national outlook of Members of Parliament other than looking at their constituencies alone.
Goran Hyden in his book Political Representation and the Future of Uganda said: “The greatest divisive political friction which Uganda experienced after independence was the struggle between Uganda and the districts.”

Divided Uganda
By the time of independence in 1962, Uganda consisted of the kingdoms of Buganda, Ankole, Bunyoro and Tooro.
Other parts that made up the country was the territory of Busoga, the districts of Acholi, Bugisu, Bukedi, Karamoja, Kigezi, Lango, Madi, Sebei, Teso and West Nile.

These areas elected members of the National Assembly and were tribal territories, something Obote was trying to overcome under the new electoral reforms.

By the time of independence, the country was predominantly administered on tribal basis. Even former governor Andrew Cohen in 1957 said: “Nationalism is still a less powerful force in Uganda than tribal loyalties.”

Under the previous electoral system, the district gave free reign to tribalism, because they allow election of a candidate on the basis of purely local concerns.
In defending his reform idea, Obote said: “A politician elected this way considers it his duty to serve the constituency and his tribe, instead of the country.”

“A member of the National Assembly or any other leader who allows himself to be the mouthpiece of tribalism becomes a prisoner in shackles and is unworthy of his role.”

The issue of lack of uniformity as a result of tribalism was also highlighted in the Commonwealth Office papers CO822/2787 titled Uganda Bill Endangers Social Links.

It stated: “In the run up to independence, Uganda’s politicians failed to form a united nationalist front, and managed to arrive at the threshold of independence with very little to show in the way of political struggle.

This contributed to the lack of unity within Uganda’s political system, and meant that broadly speaking, political parties were split along ethnic lines.”

Had the rules been enforced, it would have seen the candidates to Parliament look beyond their own borders for victory.

The rules required a candidate to pool votes from all the regions of the country, and this is what Prof Mazrui referred to as “electoral polygamy: the idea of marrying each Member of Parliament to four constituencies, with the concomitant implications which such an arrangement would have in terms of loyalties and obligations”.

Obote defends rules
Because of the backlash the rules encountered from the criticism from the Department of Political Science at Makerere University, Obote decided to face them to defend the new rules.

Prof Mazrui said: “Obote was eager to discuss the issues and spent many hours with members of the Department of Political Science at Makerere, answering their queries and discussing their criticisms.”

The critics of the new rules were concerned because under the new rule, a candidate could lose in the primary constituency, also known as the home constituency, but because of the votes he or she got from the other three constituencies, that person ends up going to Parliament despite being unpopular in the home constituency.

For that reason, the electorate in such constituencies would not feel well represented since their representative was not a person of their choice.

The preferred solution by the critics was to require that a successful candidate not only wins an overall majority, but also a majority in his home constituency.

The other concern the critics of such a system had was related to its practicality.

They argued that factors such as language barrier, money and cultural factors might affect the election chances of candidates.
According to the paper The Uganda Peoples Congress Branch and Constituency Elections of 1973, published in the Journal of Commonwealth political Studies by D. Cohen and J. Parson, it was feared that the 1+3 system would be difficult to implement and confuse voters.
It was also feared that the new system would benefit wealthy candidates with a national reputation and disadvantage new and women candidates. Also, the absence of a common language in Uganda complicated communication during political campaigns.

Besides the above challenges that could have failed the system, there were fears that electoral cartels were forming ahead of the elections.

Candidates who were not direct competitors in their basic district sought to make deals for mutual support in overlapping districts.

But Cohen and Parson argued “that overlapping districts are needed to form electoral alliances”, adding that “powerful district level politicians could align themselves with similar leaders in other regions to negotiate support for favoured candidates”.
They went on to say: “A simple method of avoiding this problem would have been to rearrange the allocation of national constituencies by holding another random drawing shortly before the election.”
Donald Horowitz, writing in his book Constitutional Engineering in a Divided Society, said: “Voters of one group could provide the margin of victory for a candidate of another group, who might then be responsive to their concerns. If vote pooling of this kind occurred as a result of agreements between parties, the basis would be laid for interethnic compromise.”
Prof Selwyn Ryan, writing in a paper Uganda: Balance Sheet of the Revolution, said the population was in agreement with the president about the reforms, though it seemed some party members were not willing to take the electoral reforms wholesomely.

“The legitimacy of the new electoral system was never in doubt. Public approval seemed to be widespread and the proposals were unanimously adopted by the National Executive Council and the delegates conference of the UPC,” he said.

However, the reforms were never implemented as the Obote government was toppled before the 1971 elections and the new regime of Idi Amin postponed the elections indefinitely.

How 1+3 system was to work
One was required to have a home or primary constituency and three national or secondary constituencies. At the time, Members of Parliament were not based on constituencies but districts.
By the time the electoral reforms were announced in 1970, the country was preparing for the 1971 general election which was to be the first in the country’s history.

Under the new reforms, an aspiring candidate had to choose one constituency from each region besides the region where his home or primary constituency was located.

That is to say, a candidate whose primary constituency was Ntoroko in western Uganda had to choose one constituency from the other regions of the country the north, east and central.

Under this arrangement, the candidate was supposed to campaign in all the four constituencies and it was the total count from the four that determined who would win the seat.

The candidate with the largest overall percentage of votes, combining the primary constituency and the secondary or the national constituencies, would be declared winner and take the seat in the primary constituency.

Under this law, each voter had to cast four votes, one for the candidate in the voter’s primary constituency and three other ballots for each of the three candidates who are standing in the constituency as their secondary area.

lubegah@ug.nationmedia.com

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