Why Opposition numbers in Parliament remain small

PARLIAMENT.

More than 20 candidates running for political office will soon be gazetted as unopposed, paving the way for them to be declared either MPs or district chairpersons-elect in an environment where the ruling party’s historical monopoly of the political space continues to show its effects.

According to preliminary data from the Electoral Commission, of more than 1,200 parliamentary aspirants countrywide, 12 MPs and 11 district chairpersons emerged unopposed. The 22 are all members of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

In 2011, there were nine unopposed candidates, also from the ruling party. There were 1,270 candidates registered for the single-member constituency elections and 443 for the district-level reserved seats for women.

However, most positions were filled by NRM candidates since the Opposition did not field candidates in most areas, a failure they blamed on President Museveni’s government, which they say has created a hostile environment for legitimate Opposition activity.

Several Opposition politicians said because of harassment and intimidation of anybody deemed to be an opponent of the regime, Opposition parties found it difficult to identify anybody willing to take the personal ‘risk’ of being identified within some constituencies.

‘Harassment’

They said the situation was worse in the 2006 and 2011 elections. This, according to analysts, partly explains why the Opposition has fewer MPs and district chairpersons. Today, the NRM has 264 MPs yet Opposition has only 63. There are 43 independents.

However, Opposition leaders said the situation has improved and they are hopeful that after the 2016 polls, there will be more than 63 Opposition MPs in the 10th Parliament. Across the board, all non-NRM parties have doubled the number of candidates they are fielding compared to the last election.

With the NRM still putting up candidates in all the expected 429 seats for Parliament, its biggest opponent, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), has managed 300 this time, compared to less than 100, five years ago. The Democratic Party has 158, the Uganda Peoples Congress 40, the Uganda Federal Alliance 30, the People’s Progressive Party 25, Jeema 20 and the People’s Development Party 18.

The money issue

Explaining why NRM continued to dominate the political spectrum, the 2011 Commonwealth election observers found that with significantly larger resources at its disposal, the NRM was dominant in all aspects of campaigning, taking maximum aantage of government resources and patronage.

Regime critics point out that the NRM illegally raids the public coffers to finance its partisan activities, and that this may extend to election financing. Such corrupt practices, vigorously denied by the ruling party, would give the NRM an unfair aantage in a country where the electorate has largely been conditioned to accept money for their vote even when the electoral laws say this is an offence.

Speaking on behalf of The Democratic Alliance (TDA), which ought to have become the Opposition’s coalition platform had joint candidates been fielded, Mr Asuman Basalirwa said: “The Opposition in Uganda is still growing and given the legal and political and logistical constraints, that is expected.”

For the first 20 years of his rule, President Museveni banned political party activity. It was not until 2005 when local and international pressure forced him to abandon the one-party state arrangement that his opponents began to make tentative contact with rural areas where majority of Ugandans live.

In the last decade, regime opponents, though legally freed of the constraints of the nefarious Article 269 of the Constitution, which had proscribed all opposition political party activity before it was removed from the supreme law, still have to contend with the security apparatus – more so upcountry. The police vigorously enforce contested laws such as the Public Order Management Act in order to suppress them.

But there have also been internal factors which have inhibited the regime’s opponents’ failure to organise.

Former Opposition Chief Whip Kassiano Wadri (FDC, Terego) said: “This is a weakness on the part of Opposition. It had been agreed in TDA that all elective positions be filled. Instead, the unity we craved could not see the light of the day. The 12 seats give added aantage to NRM and weaken the Opposition.”

Mr Wadri explained that it’s a fundamental mistake for Opposition leaders to focus on the Presidency while ignoring the pillars that will keep their government in power in the event that they are voted into office.

Officials at the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) agreed with Mr Wadri’s suspicion that organisational weaknesses within the Opposition hurt their chances.

Organisational weaknesses

“There is no reason why the Opposition should not have candidates everywhere – especially in a situation where it seems to be leveraging from coalition politics,” said CCEDU coordinator Crispy Kaheru.

It is not surprising then that it is mainly in the President’s western Uganda backyard and the Karamoja sub-region that the FDC failed to field candidates.

Mr Siraje Nsanja, a political don at Kampala University, also believes it’s not simply that the Opposition may have slept on job, but the reality of campaigns being rigorous and expensive cannot be overlooked.

“Our politics has been wantonly commercialised for selfish reasons,” Mr Nsanja said, adding: “These days, it’s hard for some people to contest for public office because of the high nomination fees. It’s not surprising that most of the unopposed candidates in the parliamentary race are incumbents because they could afford the Shs3 million.”

The February election promises to be a closely run thing although the incumbent party is bullish about its chances.

what stakeholders say

Jimmy Akena, UPC president. “For 20 years, political parties were not allowed to organise and groom future leaders. Even now, we cannot mobilise support and commercialisation of politics added insult to injury. All this affected our capacity to field candidates in all the elective positions.”

Mathias Nsubuga, DP Secretary General. “For two decades, DP was confined in Kampala and we could not go to areas like Karamoja and Western Uganda. The NRM benefited from the one-party system because for a long time parties were not allowed to mobilise.”

Frank Tumwebaze, Minister for the Presidency. “Instead of blaming NRM, let them explain why they failed to field candidates in an open contest. NRM has unopposed candidates because Opposition is weak and rejected by the people.”

Nandala Mafabi, FDC secretary general. “Museveni uses police to block us from accessing the voters and he shamelessly calls our leaders liars. Although there is a justification to our inability to field candidates in some places, it does not mean that we are doing nothing.”

Unopposed NRM Members

Members of Parliament

Margaret Baba Diri (Koboko)

Jessica Ababiku (Adjumani)

Robinah Nabbanja (Kibaale)

Barnabas Tinkasiimiire (Buyaga West)

Helen Asamo (PWDs Eastern)

Justine Kayinza (Bududa Woman)

Thomas Tayebwa (Ruhinda North

Stella Namoe (Napak Woman)

Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi)

Mary Paula Turyahikayo (Rubabo)

Pius Wakabi (Bughaya County)

Richard Gafabusa (Bwamba County)

LC5 chairpersons

Tumusiime Bamuturaki (Mbabara)

Robert Ziribasanga (Buyende)

Abbey Bizimana (Kisoro)

Patrick Keyiwa Besigye (Kabaale)

Melichaidis Kajwenge (Ibanda)

Richard Rwabuhinga (Kabalole)

Charles Ntayirehoki (Kiryandongo)

Ignatius Koomu (Nakaseke)

Hassan Said Nyinya (Koboko)

Fred Muhangi (Lyantonde)

SOURCE: DAILY MONITOR

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