Tough times ahead for In­de­pen­dent as­pi­rants for po­si­tions in Par­lia­ment

By: Isaac Okello

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.

It is going to be hard for independent members of Parliament into the system because of the requirements of the new bill – if it is passed. Photo Credits: The Observer

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.