Last month on January 26, the 77-year old Gen Yoweri Museveni celebrated 36 years as Uganda’s President, having come to power through a guerrilla war in 1986.
Three days later, on January 29, a group of former parliamentary aspirants from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), converged in the Capital Kampala and endorsed proposals that pave way for Museveni’s exit from government in a country that has never known a smooth and peaceful handover of power.
The group, Transformer Cadres Association Uganda (TCAU), which is made up of over 1,000 former parliamentary contestants in the 2020 NRM internal elections, first launched their proposals at a press conference on January 6 in Kampala.
The NRM group proposes a change of the system of governance from the reigning presidential system where the Head of State and Head of Government is elected through the universal adult suffrage to a hybrid parliamentary system where the Head of State to double as the Head of Government is elected by Members of Parliament and Members of the Local Government Councils (District Councilors).
Details of the proposal indicate that Parliament may form a third (1/3) of the voting constituency while local government councils form two-thirds (2/3).
That the Head of State may or may not be a Member of Parliament but should come from a political organization/party with majority Members of Parliament and councilors.
The system being proposed by Transformer Cadres Association Uganda is very peculiar in the sense that the election of the president is not restricted to Parliament but includes local government politicians meaning that presidential candidates will still traverse the entire country engaging with leaders at lower levels.
Secondly, the elected president retains powers of leader of government implying that he will regularly engage with legislators in parliament to account, explain and defend government decisions and programmes.
The proponents of this proposal argue that this system of governance will annihilate or reduce violence in elections, reduce resources invested in elections, strengthen political parties by encouraging them to establish grass-root structures to generate candidates for national and local government leadership and also improve the quality of leadership in the country especially parliament.
Uganda’s elections in the post-colonial era have always been a contest of killing innocent people to claim political offices.
The 1996 to 2021 disputed presidential elections in Uganda have been characterized by widespread violence, chaos, irregularities, and human rights abuses.
In the 1996 presidential contest, violence was reported in 12 of Uganda’s 39 districts, and the army council resolved to deploy troops to these areas to curb “violence and intimidation” during the election.
In 2001, nearly 156 people died of election violence across Uganda, according to prominent journalist Andrew Mwenda. However, a parliamentary committee investigated reports of violence during the presidential and legislative elections that were held between 2001 and 2002 and concluded that the “violence experienced in elections included physical assault and shooting, intimidation, abduction and detention of voters” and that 17 people were killed and 408 arrests were made.
This violence was repeated in 2006, it subsided in 2011 but returned with fury in 2016. In 2006, violence flared between supporters of Kizza Besigye, leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, rejected the official results of the poll giving him 37 percent of votes cast to Museveni’s 59 percent. Besigye claimed he had won 49 percent of the votes to Museveni’s 47 percent.
In the 2011 elections, Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggudnu told government, opposition and civil society representatives that various candidates had formed nine militia groups to protect their votes.
In 2016, fighting in western Uganda between supporters of rival candidates left 22 people dead and 10 others wounded, according to police.
On November 18, 2020, Uganda’s musician-turned-politician and presidential hopeful Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) was arrested while addressing a political rally in eastern Uganda. His seizure led to protests in the capital Kampala and other towns. These demonstrations were met with serious violence by security forces – comprising not just police, but the army, local defence units and plain-clothed officers – who were filmed shooting in central Kampala. Official figures indicate that over 50 people were killed as a result and hundreds were illegally arrested and tortured.
Therefore, Transformer Cadres believe that should Uganda change the system of government much of the violence witnessed in presidential polls is likely to fade away.
The Transformers believe their proposed system of governance will also reduce campaign resources, which should be diverted to social needs of the country.
An estimated Ushs 2.4 trillion was spent by political parties and candidates that contested in the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2016, according to study was funded by Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and conducted by Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM).
President Museveni reportedly spent at least Ushs27 billion (over $7m) on his 2016 election campaign in only two months. This amount was 12 times more than what his two main opposition rivals – combined – had spent.
Go Forward presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, came in second, having spent Ushs3.3 billion, while Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye had spent Ushs967 million.
While the Electoral Commission was allocated Ushs 419.9 billion for organizing the 2016 general elections, in 2021 they asked for Ushs 868.14 billion; a 106% jump in spending on the election.
The advocates of this unique parliamentary governance further argue that this system also averts a potential political stalemate where once one is elected a president from a minority political organization and has no majority members of Parliament and Local government councilors may have to dissolve government or else the legislature frustrates the Executive.
Uganda under President Museveni has never witness such a political crisis. But if in the 2021 general elections, Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine had won the presidential polls it is likely that his government wouldn’t have managed to effect government business in parliament because the majority of Members of Parliament came from the National Resistance Movement.
The NRM cadres argue that their proposed hybrid parliamentary system would ground multiparty democracy in Uganda because little space will be available for independent candidates. Without a political party it will become difficult for one to mobilize for support to become president.
In addition, political parties will become entrenched in society because their survival and dominance would require building grass-root structures.
This means the proposed system of governance will churn out leaders that are ideologically oriented having emerged through multiparty processes.
However, what is silent about this proposal is that it provides a safe exit for Mr Museveni from power after nearly four decades.
This governance system also helps Mr Museveni nominate and campaign for his successor with guarantee that he will sail through as his successor.
But this means that Mr Museveni must indicate willingness to retreat from government and only retain his office of party chairman to enable him to build a strong NRM party that is well-grounded amongst Ugandans.
As party chairman, Museveni can then embark on campaigning for his preferred candidate.
Mr Felix Adupa Ongwech, the president of Transformer Cadres, in his speech on January 29, said; “We are to popularize an honest discussion on the succession of our Party Chairman President Yoweri Museveni. We believe that time is not our best ally and therefore the discussion on the future of Uganda and NRM without President Museveni should start now.”
“We appeal to our NRM Party organs to formalize this discussion. But meanwhile, as Transformer Cadres Association, we shall promote this discussion amongst Ugandans,” Mr Adupa added amidst applause from the congregation.
The other justification for the hybrid parliamentary system which has been ignored in the national debate is that elections will become issue-based focusing on manifestos of candidates and parties unlike in the current situation.
In most previous general elections, Ugandans have been voting symbols and individual candidates because of religion, tribe, money, sex and personal relationship between the voters and the contestants.
For instance, Mr Museveni who comes from Ankole has been getting a huge percentage of votes from western Uganda. In the 2021 elections, Bobi Wine, a Muganda by tribe, got more votes from the central region than any other presidential candidate including Museveni.
In the proposed hybrid parliamentary system of government it is assumed that the voters, who are elected leaders, will have time to internalize manifestos of presidential candidates because as politicians themselves they will be eager to point out gaps in manifestos of their opponents.
The NRM cadres have also proposed the creation of another layer of Parliament called the Upper House or the Senate or Council of Nation to represent the interests of local government in line with the decentralization of goods and services.
The bicameral parliament, according to Transformer Cadres, will improve the quality of debate and weigh in on legislation to people-centered laws.
They also want restoration of the presidential term limits allowing a maximum term of office of ten years (two five-year terms) and operationalization of the regional tier to promote equitable development of all regions in the country.
The regional tier system, that was included in the constitution during the amendment of the Constitution in 2005, was supposed to have kicked off on the 1st of July of 2006 but it’s still a myth.
The group further demands the adoption of biometric elections both within the NRM and national elections. The proposed online voting system with biometric authentication is an electronic voting system that seeks to make use of the uniqueness of the minutiae of the human fingerprint to further enhance the level of trust and confidentiality of the voters in the system as well as make the actual process as universally accessible as possible which would be achieved through the deployment on the Internet.