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Don’t Make Political Parties Prisons, Govt Warned Against Curtailing Independent Candidates

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee yesterday started scrutunising the electoral reforms tabled by Government, with the proposal to regulate independents vying for elections receiving fierce rejection from the lawmakers.

It is worth noting that Attorney General, William Byaruhanga recently  tabled five bills in response to recommendation by Supreme Court recommendation in the 2016 presidential petition by former premier, Amama Mbabazi.

The Bill tabled include; The Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Political Parties and Organisation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Kahinda Otafiire yesterday  led the Government side to introduce the bill and was accompanied by Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana, Christopher Gashirabake, Deputy Solicitor General and a team of officials from Electoral Commission.

In one of its amendments, the Executive is seeking to curtail influence of independent politicians with the bill stipulating that a person is eligible to stand for election as an independent if that person is not a member of a registered political party or organisation or having ceased to be a member of a political party or organisation twelve months before nomination days or also having never been registered as a member of a political party or organisation.

However, MPs rejected the proposal, with Buwgeri County MP, Abdu Katuntu saying the move is being used to suffocate people into belonging to political parties, despite weaknesses in parties characterized by mistreating its members.

 “We are talking about democracy. The law should be used to promote democracy not suffocate political content, don’t make political parties prisons. The law should help make them attractive to recruitment. The process of recruitment and retention is solely on them (political parties) not the law, the parties should be palatable for people to retain,” Katuntu (in featured photo) said.

Committee Chairperson, Markson Oboth also said, “The concern for the members is that is a political party a prison? Discharge is for prison, by the time the person chooses to go independent there is already divorce and separation. Do you expect there will be a farewell party?”

The stance was further backed by Mitooma Woman MP, Jovah Kamateeka who added:  “I don’t know why we want to use the law to interfere with internal democracies in the parties. Why can’t the parties deal with this themselves? Why are we doing this at national level rather than at party level?”

However, Rukutana defended the provision arguing it is intended at reducing the number of independents within Parliament and also grow Uganda’s multiparty democracy process.

“These laws are made by the people. What do they say about Uganda’s political system? The people of Uganda, through a referendum chose to proceed by multiparty political system which has its rules and regulations. There should be regulations for political parties could seemingly interfere with general freedoms of an individual but we have to do that because we have chosen multiparty system,” he said.

Rukutana’s argument attracted a protracted argument between him, Katuntu and Wilfred Niwagaba prompting Minister Kahinda to save them by conceding to have the provision dropped.

The Minister said that while it is interest of the Executive to grow political parties and have them regulated while operating multiparty system, the parties aren’t mature.

“The fact that we have all these independents is something wrong is indicative of shortcomings of political party election regime unless we perfect that we must allow people room to breathe,” he said.

Rukutana followed suit and proposed to have the words discharged from political party within twelve months discharged but Katuntu told him that his concession isn’t good enough.

 “Even that isn’t good enough. Go think about issues we are raising. You are actually taking away the right. Since you say we regulate anything, why not say even political party that is found to have rigged should be barred from fielding candidate in the next elections,” Katuntu said.

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