OFWONO OPONDO: Party Primaries, Bloated Parliament and why everyone is crying Foul

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Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo. /Courtesy Photo

With the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) setting nomination timelines for local councils, parliamentary and presidential candidates starting next week, voters now accustomed to the culture of bribes and political freebies, are at the frontline urging or gang pressing candidates who skipped or lost in party primaries to turn up as independent candidates in the general elections.

The campaign agents and voters mostly do this to create unhealthy competition even where otherwise there would be no real opponents to their candidate so as to perpetuate palm and throat oiling until elections are done with. Consequently, candidates go to any length to run for office.

Wrangles over candidate selection in DP, FDC and NUP are leaving many shedding tears because there are apparently no definitive criteria. The discretion is to the presumed party bosses. Under the circumstances there have been allegations that money is being under the table to hand party tickets to the highest bidders. The Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) leaders is maintaining a brave face amidst political adversities, yet only they, perhaps, see any pathway to victory. UPC president, Jimmy Akena has thrown in his towel and settled for less of a party that led Uganda twice.

According to the IEC, nomination for councilors are slated for September 21 to 1st October, MPs for October 12th to 13th, and finally presidential candidates on 2nd and 3rd November, setting stage for general campaigns until polling day in February. Yet even with these nominations done, candidates and voters are still far from the home stretch. Ahead, there is still harmonization of candidates campaign program in their areas so that none crosses the others path.

The rise of MPs from the current 445 to 528 projected in the 11th parliament has left some Ugandans grieving at the cost for an organ where most MPs rarely take assignments seriously and simply melt into the crowd. Uganda is also where candidates borrow to fund elections and voters are paid to vote leaders who should work for them.

In Uganda today there are ‘professional’ election campaign agents, who sometimes are not even members of the candidate’s party, but merely taking up the vocation as a business venture from which to earn a living ripping off the unsuspecting contestants. At the parliamentary level, they will pretend to know a candidate’s constituency and issues at play. Often, because there is no credible and objective political research and analysis to guide political campaigns, the candidates and those closest to them fall prey to these sharks.

Under the COVID-19 pandemic it is expected that much of the actual campaigns will be conducted through media platforms of televisions, the many FM radio stations found across the country, megaphones recently installed by politicians or business people. Mobile electronic gadgets particularly the telephones should facilitate interaction though platforms such as WhatsApp, facebook, twitter and instagram making it easier for candidates to reach their targeted audiences much faster and more affordable.

If the media platforms are adopted as the main campaign mode, there should be minimal physical interaction among rival candidates, and as well rival supporters which in itself should reduce the possibilities of chaos and violence. Unfortunately, opposition parties citing what happened during the NRM primaries where candidates and during polling large crowds gathered, have been saying that they too will not abide by the COVI-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). And sadly, the experience in the just concluded NRM primaries where sordid behaviour was exhibited with reckless abandon and impunity including large campaign crowds as well as during polling day that was marred by sordid behaviour is causing trepidation that perhaps worse is yet to unfold.

It is good entertainment seeing many candidates running for parliament as it makes us feel good, but nothing changes. Our system allows the victors a voice and mandate to do what they like without much further reference to the people who voted them. This democracy is beginning to generate cynicism and disillusion.

As we have previously seen, this ranges from callously raising their perks, changing the constitution, fighting in parliament, curtailing other organs of government, abusing others with insolence and impunity, to invoking unfettered powers and privileges without anyone’s consent. This power has been taken back into the age of the quill pen and wig.

Uganda’s socio-political system presents open invitation for autocratic behaviour. During the CA, Prof Apolo Nsibambi warned delegates, that ruthless operators could make hay with this system but nobody listened. That moment has now come and is getting ever entrenched.

It is tragic watching, almost helplessly, NRM which was designed to give voice and power to ordinary people, now playing by the old rules while power grab is taking place. We urgently need a vision to restrain the negative influences of representative democracy, billionaire politicians, lobbyists, and other power bastions. Through self-indulgence, NRM leaders are exposing their theatrical democracy, and creating potential for a coalition against themselves and their party. NRM must now decide how it wants to build a positive and durable legacy.

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The writer, is the Government Spokesperson and head of Uganda Media Centre

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