A proposed amendment to the Administration of Parliament Act shepherded by MPs Andrew Baryayanga of Kabale municipality and Medard Lubega Sseggona of Busiro East has drawn praise and fierce criticism from both the ruling NRM and opposition camps.
In a recent interview, the seconder of the draft legislation said the bill is not tailored to diminish the parliamentary authority of FDC, the legislation’s harshest critic but, rather, to improve democracy in the country.
The private member’s bill largely introduces clauses that empower MPs to elect their own leadership in parliament including the leader of opposition–a break from the current restrictive tradition that only allows political parties to appoint their anointed leaders.
Speaking to Baker Batte Lule, Sseggona, the shadow minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said the LoP needs to be more accountable to parliament than to his or her political party, FDC.
What’s the bill about?
We want the party with the majority in the opposition [FDC] to send us names to choose from. We recognise the numeric strength of every party. We know that the leader of opposition comes from a party with the largest number of MPs from the opposition and that is not debatable.
But what we want is, that party should give us a choice to choose our leader. You see, the speaker of parliament who is supreme and her deputy, we elect them; then why don’t we also elect the leader of opposition? We are not saying for example that DP should also bring candidates; no, it’s only FDC to do that but by giving us a choice.
Why are you doing this now?
We want to strengthen internal democracy in political parties. There must be primaries in FDC so that people express their interest to lead. Then they send us those they have sieved so that all of us in parliament decide.
But if they organise party primaries; why should they give you more than one candidate? Shouldn’t it be like it is with the speaker, the ruling NRM just provides a name of the candidate of its choice…
We [opposition] have been the leaders of NRM when it comes to democracy; I don’t want us to lose that opportunity of providing the country with good alternatives. But what you also need to know is that the position of speaker of parliament is competed for.
If NRM brings one candidate, other parties can also bring candidates and they compete. You remember in 2011, when the NRM brought Rebecca Kadaga, we also brought [Nathan] Nandala-Mafabi and for the deputy speaker’s position we nominated Odonga Otto.
In 2016, we nominated Muhammad Nsereko to challenge Jacob Oulanyah. So, the positions of speaker and deputy are not restrictive to which parties should provide candidates. Anyone can come, including independents. But in the current situation when FDC nominates the Leader of Opposition, he/she is not subjected to a vote; it’s fait accompli.
You sound like you have some bone to pick with the new leadership of FDC…
No no no, this has nothing to do with Betty Aol because she is already in the position; we don’t envisage this law to affect her retrogressively. This law if passed, will begin with the next parliament. We need to improve democracy in the country, even more importantly in parliament, which must be the seat of this democracy.
At what point did you realise there was a problem in the way the LoP is appointed?
It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to address you on the internal dynamics that influenced this bill. It remains the law. Today, I’ve seen there is a need to improve the law and that is what I have done.
First appreciate me that I have seen a weakness in the law and I’m moving to address it. You know in a parliamentary process, when you identify something, you first have to discuss with your colleagues the loophole in order to generate consensus.
But you know a law is as good as the spirit in which it is brought…
The spirit is to improve the way our leaders are appointed in the opposition. If you want to read other intensions, please go ahead and do so.
But we have seen leadership contestation especially after the firing of Winnie Kiiza as LoP…
There is no leadership contestation at all; I don’t see it.
Isn’t it the reason they appointed you on the shadow cabinet and you declined the offer; you’re not happy…
No no, we are a happy lot. This law has nothing to do with what is happening in the opposition ranks right now.
Will this bill see the light of day before the expiration of the term of this parliament?
Yes, I see this bill passing before the expiration of the term of the 10th parliament but what’s most important, it is not targeting the current leadership. What I can assure you is that the law will work when its time comes; it’s not even intended for my benefit.
You know why; I don’t’ even intend to be in the opposition in the next term. We are going to be in government in the coming term. Therefore, this law will actually benefit the NRM because it’s them who will be in the opposition. But the point I’m making is that even in my own government, we want to be more democratic than the NRM.
Do you think that a LoP who is elected is better than one appointed by a party?
When normally there are elections, there are considerations; that’s point number one. Number two, it’s not even about who is better; it’s about systems. Betty Aol is good but maybe I could be better than her.
Let the people choose between those who have been provided. Actually systems bring both good and bad leaders but they are good because the procedure is known. If somebody is a bad leader and it’s you who elected him/her, then blame yourself.
What happens when somebody is a bad leader and you cannot change them yet those who brought him/her cannot also change him because they are not in parliament and his/her badness doesn’t affect them? If we had a good electoral system, we wouldn’t have a problem with Ugandans electing Museveni despite his badness; it is them who would suffer because they made a choice. But the good thing with a working system is, it checks those who go through it.
But there are those who say in a multiparty dispensation having leaders in parliament who are not answerable to the party creates another power centre, which in a way waters down parties…
What’s wrong with having another power centre? I don’t see any problem with it at all. It can’t be that my daughter in primary school gets to elect her leaders and members of parliament can’t but just wait for people outside parliament to choose for them who will lead them. I think this is an anomaly that must have been rectified yesterday.