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Why NRM fears Independent MPs

Numbers show if not checked, 30% MPs to be Independent

Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | Finally, President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling NRM party and the four opposition parties represented in parliament have something they agree on; aspiring Independent MPs must be failed at the next election in 2021. They accuse independents of opportunism.

“You have politicians who benefit from the branding and goodwill of the party and then turn around to fight it,” Democratic Party President, Norbert Mao told The Independent.

But the real reason behind the NRM and opposition party’s move appears to be fear and desire to control.

“Some Independents have become extremely disruptive,” Mao says, “All they do is fight the party. This is a legitimate concern. And if you have a problem you find a solution.”

The solution Mao and his fellow party leaders appear to have agreed on is to kick independents out of the parties and block their emergency at election time.

To deal with the Independent candidates, the political parties have worked with the Electoral Commission and came up with the Regulation of Independent Candidates Bill, 2019.

The National Consultative Forum (NCF), a platform that brings together all political parties registered by the (EC), adopted the Bill on April 17 at a retreat at a Hotel in Entebbe following a week’s deliberations.

Specifically, the Bill seeks to spell out the circumstances under which Independents participate in elections.

At the centre of the law is a provision that a person is only eligible to stand as an independent candidate for election if they are not a member of a registered political party. In case, they have been members of a political party, they must have ceased to be a member of that political party for at least eight months before the date of the election.

This clause is aimed at preventing situations where after losing party primaries, contenders jump out of the party and contest as independents in many cases even defeating party flag bearers.

If the move works as envisaged, it will give political parties more control on the selection process of parliamentary election candidates and also ensure they tow the party line while in parliament.

Independent MPs react

Not surprisingly, current Independent MPs do not like the move.

Legislator Cecilia Ogwal sees it as part of the growing intolerance within political parties. She says, as a politician who championed the push for the return of multi-party politics, she understands how important having rules of engagement is. But at the same time, she told The Independent, it is important for parties to leave an option where independents participate in elections.

She used her personal story to explain why. Towards the 1996 elections, Ogwal fell out with her party then—the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) after defying a directive issued by then party leader, Milton Obote, for members to boycott local council and parliamentary elections.

She successfully contested for the Lira Municipality seat and won. Then after successfully championing the return of multi-party politics in 2005, she found herself in trouble with the party again. By this time Milton Obote was dead and his wife Miria Obote and son Jimmy Akena were seeking to capture control of the party.

Miria became party President and Jimmy Akena targeted Ogwal’s Lira Municipality seat. As part of the ploy, Ogwal was blocked from participating in UPC party primaries and eventually lost the Lira Municipality seat to Akena.

A few months later, however, she won the Woman MP seat for newly created Dokolo District.

“If the option of contending as an Independent was not exist available, I would have been denied an opportunity of serving my people who clearly still needed me to represent them,” she says.

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