The long awaited constitutional amendments that were expected to usher in electoral reforms were finally submitted to parliament on 28th April 2015. There are several objects that the amendment is intended to achieve, notably, changing the name of the Electoral Commission to Independent Electoral Commission, prescribing for the appointment and removal of the commissioners, increment in the retirement age for judicial officer from 70 to 75 for Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, and to 70 from 65 for the Principal Judge and judges of the High Court.
Other than those, there isn’t much that the proposal offers to change in the current electoral laws as was anticipated by the civil society and the opposition who had, for over a year advocated for electoral reforms. Salient clauses such as Clause 2 (b) of the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015, is to the effect that a person seeking to be elected as an independent member of Parliament be supported by the signatures of at least one thousand registered voters in that respective constituency as opposed to the twenty signatures required by an individual supported by a political party.
This provision is in its nature is inconsistent with the concept of equality before the law. Taking into consideration the registration of a political party which operates nationwide, according to the political parties Act 2005, a list of at least 2,433 members (50 members obtained from at least 2/3 of the 73 districts listed in the 2nd Schedule of the Political Parties Act, 2005) of that party desiring to register are required. Some parties however do not even have 50 members in some constituencies and a candidate contesting under such an umbrella is only required to get 20 signatories to nominate him or her.
To require, therefore, that an individual intending to contest as an Independent Member of Parliament obtains 1,000 signatures for nomination, is as though he or she has already been declared a victor of that contest, if you compare with the 20 signatures a political party member is required to present for nomination. Besides, there are some constituencies such as Moroto Municipality, that barely have 10,000 registered voters. It will be very interesting then to see how an independent candidate can come up with the required 1,000 signatures when in the previous election, the winning candidate had 1,496 votes only.
In an interaction with Hon Anywarach Joshua, an independent Member of Parliament, on Wednesday 29th April, he noted that we subscribe to different ideologies, and the provision in its very nature is punitive to independent candidates who intend to run for a parliamentary position from their constituencies.
On the other hand, Hon Bernard Atiku, the Shadow Minister for Youth welcomed the proposal and was of the opinion that independent Members of parliament are not answerable to anyone, therefore his or her endorsement must be beyond reasonable doubt. What then is the essence of an election if it does not suffice as endorsement beyond reasonable doubt? If the electorate do not feel adequately represented by such members of parliament, they have a constitutional right to recall such them from Parliament.
There are other concerns that the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill ought to have proposed to address regarding the independent Members of Parliament. For example, regarding the leadership of the independent MPs in the House and the Speaker’s assumed caretaker-ship thereof. The other is how the Independent Members of Parliament can also benefit constitutionally from funding from the Electoral Commission.
Other than that, the proposal simply sets rigorous measures that individuals who do not subscribe to ideologies of the political parties cannot ably meet, without wasting time and serious financial implications. It is well within knowledge that the most of the independent Members of Parliament belonged to certain political parties and only decide to run for election after losing in the primaries, claiming that the primary elections were unfairly conducted within the parties.
Political Parties should endeavour to unite their members, set up measures to control their members and to adequately carry out free and fair elections within their organisations. In this case, independent candidates will strictly use their personal merit to be elected without taking advantage of party structures. In that respect, clause 2 of the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, 2015 should be deleted.