Why reducing Parliament’s size isn’t just difficult, it’s impossible

Published 3 years ago -

In 45 BC when Julius Caesar wanted to tighten his grip on the Roman Senate (the equivalent of Parliament), he introduced a range of reforms driven towards more representation of the Roman people, some of which included increasing the size of the senate.

Considering the senate had traditionally been reserved for men of high status, wealth and nobility, Caesar quickly realized that he had little or no control over the actions of members of the senate. Well knowing that the higher the number of Senators the harder it will be for them to develop unanimous consent that may not work in his favour, he devised one of the earliest statesman strategies driven at controlling senates and Parliaments. To consolidate his power over it and while using the pretext of more representation, he allowed “men of low birth” into the senate thereby increasing its members from 600 to 900 Senators and successfully managing to turn the membership of the Senate into individuals seeking prestige and social standing, rather than actual authority – this was also one of the reasons that led to his assignation by the nobles.

Several years after Caesars assassination, what started at a simple strategy of statesmanship would later be referred to Gerrymandering (manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class) and practiced in several countries throughout world history that include; Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sudan, United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, United States and Venezuela. So much so that our very own Milton Obote was also accused on Gerrymandering leading to the general elections in December 1980.

True to President Museveni’s political science background, over the years he has drawn a move straight out the Julius Ceasar and Milton Obote Gerrymandering hand book by creating a series of counties and districts under the pretext of allowing for broader representation of Ugandans but also conveniently allowing him political advantage followed by pockets of criticism, in some cases with the opposition promising to reduce the size of Parliament once it has the house majority and his critics endorsing this message – but is this a realistic promise?

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Despite repeated calls by the President’s critics to reduce the size of Parliament the exact dot-to-the-dot process to accomplish this is not as simple as it sounds.

Theoretically speaking the process to reduce the size of Parliament would in many ways be a mirror to the process of increasing it. When increasing the size of Parliament, government moves a motion to create new districts or counties or municipalities; the rationale for this is usually to bring services closer to the people or to accomplish broader representations for some seemingly marginalized groups. Members of Parliament then have to put it to the vote.

In the past MPs have voted in favour of creating new districts (consequently increasing the size of Parliament) because new districts are curved out of existing districts which reduces the geographical boundaries within which an MP has to campaign thereby allowing existing MPs political advantage. Whether they are willing to admit it or not; in some ways the practice of gerrymandering also ironically creates political advantage (especially during the campaign season) for the very opposition MPs that publically crusade against it.

Secondly; for Parliament to significantly reduce its own size, MPs will have to willingly give up their own seats as well as voting for the abolition of some districts and counties. There are several multi-layered issues that would prevent this from happening outside the desire to protect their own presence within Parliament.

On a pragmatic level; there are two ways to reduce the size Parliament. The first would be that government would have to financially compensate MPs to give up their own constituency seats. The average MP gets about UGX 20 million in salary and allowances per month – summing up to about UGX 1.2 Billion over the space of a 5 year term. Even then, if an MP was paid UGX 1.2 Billion as a compensations amount, that sum would not begin to cover other indemnity costs that will come with an MP giving up their seat in Parliament plus it borders on trying to fix the system the same way it was broken; with bribery. Imagine that.

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Contrary to what most people think, a presidential decree cannot reduce the size of Parliament seeing as that would be unconstitutional given that MPs are democratically elected and not appointed by the President. Other creative legal solutions such as a referendum can only go as far as expressing public sentiment – but do not outline the dot-to-the-dot process for reducing Parliament’s size.

As it is now; the 10th Parliament will have 57 more MPs than the 9th Parliament from 375 to 432 members. Come 1st July 2016, 4 new Districts will be come into effect, 1st July 2017 it will be 6 new Districts, 1st July 2018 Parliament will have another 6 new Districts and 7 new Districts on 1st July 2019 totaling 23 new districts in the next 4 years. A process that is impossibly irreversible.

There is no breaking free from what has already been broken.



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