Uganda Elections 2006: A Hybrid Political System?
Cecilia Ogwal at a cultural function.

Uganda Elections 2006: A Hybrid Political System?


To some people, this is a hybrid of the Movement and multiparty political system.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: March 14, 2006


The major elections are over in Uganda and the poll fever is still on. On February 23, Ugandans elected their President and Members of Parliament in the country's first ever-multiparty elections after 26 years under the individual merit movement system.

Ugandans continued to vote, this time for their Local Council Five Chairpersons and Councilors at those councils, Municipal Mayor and lately local council 3 chairpersons that ended on Friday.

This is a new trend in Uganda's history since the last multiparty elections in 1980 that were contested by among others, President Yoweri Museveni. The elections for 1985 could not take place because of the rebellion in the country that later brought President Museveni to power in February 1986. Ever since, Uganda has had only two general elections, in 1996 and 2001, all of which have been held under the Movement system where one contests as an individual since all political parties had been banned. The parties are now back and the hot talk during political debates is party politics or first multiparty politics in the country.

The International media and the entire international community has blown it further, as 'Uganda's first Multiparty elections since President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986'. But a closer look at what is going on in Uganda portrays a contrary picture to what is being talked about to the extent that one can say that the ongoing election is neither based on the Movement nor the multiparty setting.

Nature of campaigns:
The word tubejeeko (let us leave them go) must still be fresh in the minds of Ugandans and could have been responsible for this trend. During the campaigns in the referendum that led to the 'opening up of political space', President Yoweri Museveni told Ugandans that the referendum was meant to allow those who did not believe in the Movement system to leave. He should have told them that he had also formed the NRM. He continued during the Presidential campaigns by referring to the FDC as a bunch of people who were chased from the NRM.

To some people, it still looks like we are still under the movement system and the word political party is far from their ears.

As though he was still trying to reform the movement, as was his campaign slogan, Dr. Besigye told the opposition to stop looking at each other as Democratic Party, Uganda Peoples Congress, Conservative Party or Forum for Democratic Change but as a combined force to oust president Museveni.

This in a way played to Besigye's advantage, as some people did not look at him as the FDC candidate but a credible challenger to President Yoweri Museveni who would be voted for by all people who needed change. Indeed, his party's 'One Uganda, One people' slogan was overshadowed by the agende (he [Museveni] must go) slogan.

Nature of candidates in the elections:
In the February 23rd polls, four political parties fielded candidates for presidency and one candidate, Dr. Abed Bwanika stood on individual merit as was the case under the Movement system.

Others including President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement, Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, Ssebaana Kizito of the Democratic Party and Miria Kalule Obote of the Uganda People's Congress respectively stood on the ticket of their respective political parties.

At Parliamentary level, there were more independents than the total number of opposition candidates combined and the same is happening in lower local council elections where independents are also winning the polls.

What is more interesting and surprising is that people who were at the helm of advocating for political pluralism were among those that turned around and stood on individual merit, the method they had been fighting as the proponents of the Movement system. Others, including President Museveni, stood on their party tickets.

For example Uganda Peoples Congress iron lady, Cecilia Ogwal and other UPC leaders like Ben Wacha (Kwania), Okullo Epak (Oyam South), Betty Amongi (Apac women), Charles Angiro (Erute) stood as independents. Ogwal lost to her fellow UPC member, Joseph Akena, a son to former Uganda President, Milton Obote.

At the local level, there were also more independents than the total number of opposition candidates combined and more than half the number of NRM candidates. Statistics from the Electoral Commission indicated that independent candidates for LC V chairmen were 62 more than the opposition candidates combined who made 40.

Voting pattern at all levels:
One would expect that being sponsored by the party gives them a big muscle to get more votes, but this is not the fact according to the ongoing polls which offer signs of 'individual meritism'.

Take an example of Kampala City where the new Mayor Elect, Hajji Nasser Ssebaggala and his close challengers, Peter Sematimba both standing as independents beat party sponsored candidates by getting 53 percent and 40.4 percent respectively.

Hajji Hasib Takuba, the DP candidate who refused to step down for Ssebaggala, NRM sponsored candidate, Wilson Kyambadde and independents Naiga Sserwanga and Senseko Kulubya got 3.1 percent, 2.6 percent, 0.3 and 0.6 respectively.

This is almost the same scenario when it comes to the Presidential elections, especially in northern Uganda, where many voters cast their vote to the main opposition leader and FDC President, Dr. Kizza Besigye for Presidency and voted for other party candidates in other polls.

In Lira Municipality, for example, voters overwhelmingly cast their vote for Joseph Akena, a UPC candidate for Parliament and Dr. Kizza Besigye, an FDC Candidate for Presidency. This was in spite of the fact that UPC also had Miria Kalule Obote, a mother to Akena in the Presidential race against Besigye, President Museveni, Ssebaana Kizito and Abedi Bwanika.

Also, as was the case with the Mayoral elections, independent, Abedi Bwanika beat Kalule Obote, a candidate of a party that once ruled Uganda, by polling by 0.95 against 0.82 percent. This trend did not get many candidates unaware as some exploited it to get votes by being behind popular people in their areas other than their political parties.

You will recall that known DP officials like Kawempe South MP-elect, Sebuliba Mutumba, Kawempe north MP-elect, Latif Ssebagala and Kampala Mayor-elect, Nasser Ssebagala were behind Dr. Besigye and not Ssebaana Kizito.

Love for individual merit:
Uganda may have gone into party politics, but many Ugandans still enjoyed the individual merit system. In fact some people will tell you that if it were not the corruption in the NRM and the abuse of the movement system by the same people who started it, they would have preferred to stay in the individual merit system.

One of such people is former Ethics and Integrity Minister and Mbarara Municipality Woman MP, Miria Matembe who was widely known to be from the FDC but decided to stand as an independent.

Matembe, who fell out with President Museveni over his demand for the third term in power, says that she preferred to stand as an independent because she didn't want to divide her constituency-the women. She however lost in the polls after the campaign against her, by especially the Land and Environment Minister, Kahinda Otafiire.

The Secretary for International Relations at the FDC, Reagan Okumu says that there were many people who were like Matembe- especially in the western party of the country. Okumu says that many people decided to stand as independents for fear of intimidation from government agents.

So, what kind of electoral system are we practically operating in? A Movement system, multiparty system or hybrid political system?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: March 14, 2006
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.