By Frank Kamuntu
Kampala: Parliament has approved new guidelines for the conduct of political party primaries and election of its leaders, with the objective of curbing the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a sitting on Thursday, July 9 2020, the ruling National Resistance Movement majority MPs carried the day, despite protests from a section of legislators opposed to the guidelines.
Regulation 5 the Political Parties and Organisations (Conduct of Meetings and Regulations) 2020 now empowers political parties to include virtual meetings, phased elections and resolutions by circulation as an alternative to conventional fun-filled primaries.
The most instructive is Regulation 5(3), which empowers parties to override their Constitutions and opt for a method that will be in keeping with following the COVID-19 health guidelines in selecting party officials and candidates.
Except the top most organs of political parties, the other party structures can now have their lives extended pursuant to Regulation 5(4).
The Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs presented its report before a passionate debate for and against, with Committee Chairperson Marksons Jacob Oboth reading a Majority Report that carried the day.
MP Oboth said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the guidelines indispensable if elections are to be held within the tight Constitutional timeframes.
“The Committee recommends that these regulations should be approved by Parliament as required in Section 27 of the Political Parties and Organisations Act 2005,” said Oboth.
He, however, added that the Regulations should “only apply to infectious diseases that are notified under Sections 10, 11 and 27 of the Public Health Act; it should be expanded to include other matters that can affect the holding of normal party activities including exigencies posed by a state of emergency or a state of war.”
MP Medard Lubega Sseggona (DP, Busiro East) lead dissenting Committee Members in authoring a Minority Report, which called for the rejection of the guidelines.
Sseggona said instead, a Constitution Amendment Bill should be brought to address the issues that the Regulations intend to achieve.
“The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs be urged to present to Parliament comprehensive amendments in the Constitution and the Political Parties and Organisations Act to transit the country through the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sseggona.
Allowing party leaders to extend beyond their mandate, he argued, violates the constitutional right of party Members and is against articles 71 and 72, which enjoins political parties to be anchored on democratic principles.
MP Henry Musasizi (NRM, Rubanda East) supported the Regulations saying “The population is waiting for us to tell them the way forward as far as elections are concerned; the [Majority] Report is providing for all possible options for us to have an election,”
He was supported by Hon Anna Maria Nankabirwa (NRM, Kyankwanzi), who said the pandemic should not be used to sidestep the Constitutional requirement to hold elections, and that the guidelines are an ice-breaker since it supports parties to hold elections.
But for MP Reagan Okumu (Ind., Aswa County), revealed “I see this House being dragged to courts; it is not that I fear elections but this is not a matter of winning elections…why do we wait to go to court when we can decide some of these issues here?”