By Andrew Irumba
Kampala: Ever since government tabled proposed Electoral Reforms before parliament ahead of the 2021 general election a lot of controversy has been raised, both from within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and opposition parties.
In the initial proposed Reforms, one of the reforms government wanted was not allow Independent candidates to participate in the election and that any candidate has to have been a member of a political party for not less than 12 months.
However, SpyUganda has learnt that government has since backtracked on this proposal after it met a lot of resistance from several politicians from NRM, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP) and other opposition politicians.
AS you read this, Government has bowed to pressure and withdrawn a contentious clause in the Electoral Reform Bills that would require political parties to issue discharge certificates to members seeking to go independent.
The Deputy Attorney General, Mwesigwa Rukutana, made the concession on Tuesday while appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to justify the proposed reforms carried in five Bills that are before Parliament.
The Bills include the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill No.17, 2019, the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill No.18, 2019, Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill No. 19, 2019, the Political Parties and Organization (Amendment) Bill No. 20, 2019 and the Local Governments (Amendment) Bill No.21, 2019.
One of the proposed amendments to the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Governments Acts is that a person would be eligible to stand for election as an independent, if he or she is not a member of a registered political party or having ceased to be a member 12 months before nomination day.
Government also proposed that an independent candidate shall be taken to have ceased to be a member of a political party if that person was discharged by the party. However, legislators on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee accused Justice Minister Gen. Kahinda Otafire and Rukutana of attempting to legislate away freedom of membership and exit in political parties.
Bugweri County MP, Abdu Katuntu said the government proposal sought to keep members enslaved to their political parties, arguing that processes of recruitment and membership should be a matter solely for political parties and not the law.
Katuntu told Rukutana, who insisted that the proposal was brought to be debated and a decision taken, that political parties were not prisons and that the law should be made attractive for recruitment and not lock in people.
The Committee Chairperson, Jacob Oboth Oboth pointed out that usually when a member parts ways with a party it’s through acrimonious circumstances and thus obtaining a discharge certificate from the same party will be impossible. He argued that there should be free entry and exit from political parties.
Even with the concession, MPs insisted that the entire clause proposing to legislate on independent candidates requiring them to have left their parties 12 months prior to nomination date should be deleted. Katuntu argued that this clause offends Article 72(4) of the Constitution, which provides the freedom for any person to stand either under a party or as an independent, although Rukutana tried to defend the clause.