THE next local council elections are bound to be very competitive and more exciting than ever. This is after parliament finally passed several amendments in the Local Government Act that removed any legal encumbrances against holding the elections. The major changes from the previous elections include: Holding the elections under party politics, providing time for nominating candidates and campaigns that have only been seen in LC3, 5 and parliamentary elections.
The Local Government (Amendment) (no.2) Bill was brought to parliament in December 2007 for the first reading, before it was passed over to the committee.
The committee, chaired by George William Wopuwa, finally brought it back to the house and it was passed on February 21. â€œThe absence of the law had a tremendous effect on government programmes at the grassroots,â€ Wopuwa explained.
The Act will now be taken to the President and if he approves, it will become law and the process will begin.
â€œIt is good that the act has been passed now, because it puts everything in line with the constitution,â€ says lawyer Erias Lukwago, one of the people who had earlier opposed the legality of LC1 elections under the old system.
Local Councils 1 and 2 elections have been under dispute since a court ruling that they were operating illegally when the country went multiparty.
In August 2006, the EC was organising the lower Local Council elections when Forum for Democratic Change official, Major Rubaramira Ruranga, went to court questioning some issues in the election act.
Among the issues of contention was the legality of holding the elections on individual merit yet the country was already multiparty, the provision of a single day for nominations, campaigns and elections for the LC1 officials and having all village members as compulsory members of the village council. Subsequently, court ruled in favor of Ruranga and the elections were suspended, pending an amendment of the issues by parliament.
The amendment now provides ample time between nomination, campaign and elections. Previously, candidates were given a few minutes to campaign, before the elections were held.
In the coming elections, there will be a day for nominating candidates and days for campaigning through the villages.
â€œThis is good because it will provide for the true values of democracy. We shall be voting for our village leaders on an informed background,â€ says Samuel Kizito, a resident of Kisaasi.
However, prospective LC1 candidates think it will make the exercise more expensive and competitive.
â€œPreviously, you did not need posters and funding for the campaigns. But with the inclusion of party symbols and colours, I think this is beyond the means of the poor man,â€ says Edward Mukasa, who has his eyes on his village in Kanyanya.
Previously, LC1 chairmen were elected through an open vote â€” voters lined up behind their preferred candidates. Democratically, such voting was good since rigging was almost out of the question. However, this time round, voting for the chairmen will be by secret ballot.
â€œWe shall start witnessing rigging in LC1 elections, because the stakes are higher and the process is secret,â€ predicts Samuel Ssentamu, a resident of Kungu, in Wakiso district.
Since the amendments allow candidates to stand under political parties, the parties will front their candidates and sponsor them.
At first, there had been recommendations that LC1s be left out of the multiparty system, because of their closeness to the population.
In an earlier interview, former local government minister Jaberi Bidandi Ssali expressed fear that the introduction of party politics would affect the cohesion of the LC system. â€œWhen I was still minister, we tried to make a cabinet paper to the effect that LC1 and 2 be free of multiparty politics,â€ he said. He explained that since the LC1 and 2 are not officially recognised as governments, people should be allowed to elect their leaders without basing on party affiliations.
â€œThis would be the best way of maintaining unity at the village level,â€ he concluded.
But now, it is a law and there is no going back.
Even before the suspension of the elections in 2006 was made, some of the prospective candidates had already made campaign posters, complete in party colors.
â€œI am standing on the DP ticket and my posters are green, with a hoe as the symbol,â€ says Salongo Kizza Kalibbala, who is eyeing Dungu one in Kisaasi, Kawempe Division. He says he is investing over sh0.2m in the campaign.
However, according to the amendments, bribery or any freebies handed out by candidates will be illegal and anybody found doing so will be charged under the law.
The new format will obviously increase the EC budget. Earlier, the EC had said that elections would only be held at the end of the year, so that they have ample time to prepare.
â€œWe need to register voters, screen the names and put up the voters registers across the country for the people to look at the names, before a final date for the elections is set,â€ the EC Chairman, Hajji Badru Kiggundu, said.
Now that the law is in place, things will set in motion. The EC had earlier budgeted for sh54bn for the elections, making it the most expensive LC1 election ever. The last elections held in 2002 cost 28bn shillings.
The other implication is that LC officials who will be elected at the end of the year will be deemed to have been elected at the end of their last tenure in 2006.
This means that they will serve for three years instead of the constitutional five years. If the elections are held in November or December as the EC is proposing, the new officials will serve for only two and half years, since the next elections are due in early 2011.
For now, prospective contestants are dusting their shoes, clearing their voices and soon the villages will be beaming with rallies.
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