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Is boycott a wise move?

By Vision Reporter

Added 8th May 2005 03:00 AM

THE decision by the coalition of the six main opposition political parties (G6) to boycott the referendum on the change of the political system was extremely unwise.

THE decision by the coalition of the six main opposition political parties (G6) to boycott the referendum on the change of the political system was extremely unwise.

John Kakande

THE decision by the coalition of the six main opposition political parties (G6) to boycott the referendum on the change of the political system was extremely unwise.

The six parties stand to lose out politically by boycotting the referendum. Pragmatism demands that they do take part and I hope the G6 would reconsider this decision, which appears to have been hastily taken without a deeper analysis of the implications.

The G6 coalition announced its decision hardly 12 hours after Parliament passed the resolution for holding the referendum. This means either the decision was taken before Parliament passed the referendum resolution on May 4 or just a few individuals had an impromptu meeting that took a decision without any serious discussions.

Decisions on such important matters should be taken after wide consultations and thorough analysis of the pros and cons as well as consequences of the various options.

Last week I stated, under this column, that it was a miscalculation for the opposition MPs to obstruct the referendum motion in Parliament.

I argued that the MPs’ anti-referendum stand was simply creating the impression that the opposition, instead of working to facilitate the change to multiparty politics expeditiously, was trying to obstruct it. This paints a picture of a disorganised, confused opposition that lacks political foresight and therefore unprepared to take over the reigns of state power.

The G6 has given two clear reasons for the boycott. In 2000, the parties’ argument was that the right of association was inalienable and, therefore, could not be subjected to a vote. This made sense. But this time the G6 argue that they won’t participate in the referendum because it is an “exercise that aims at entrenchment of a one-party state legislating against opposition parties.”

The other stated reason is that the referendum is too costly and an unnecessary burden to the taxpayer. Yes, the referendum is expensive. This is a contentious matter on which the Government and the opposition won’t agree. I believe both sides have strong arguments.

But in the end, the Ggovernment has taken a decision in favour of the referendum, although it would clearly cost less to change the political system using the district councils and Parliament. This decision in favour of the referendum may not necessarily be right, but I don’t think it justifies a boycott.

The argument that the referendum is intended to ‘entrench’ the one-party system is bizarre. It was valid argument that the 2000 referendum was intended to entrench the Movement system.

The political parties had good reasons to boycott the 2000 referendum because it was obvious the vote would not be in their favour. Participation meant legitimising the process and the status quo. The boycott eroded the legitimacy of the 2000 referendum.

If the Nelson Ocheger’s ‘dove’ had not come into the ring to purportedly wrestle with the Movement, the 2000 referendum would have been a disaster given the fact that hardly 50% of registered voters took part.

But the circumstances today are fundamentally different. The government has since dropped opposition to the multiparty politics and President Museveni has been telling his supporters during public rallies to support the change of political system.

The Movement supporters have also formed a party — the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Of course, there are suspicions that the Movement could still use underhand methods through such groups as the Kalangala Action Plan (KAP) to campaign for retention of the Movement system.

I strongly doubt the Movement can belatedly attempt to reverse the transition to multiparty. Even if it attempted, the Movement would not re-impose a system where political parties are caged. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is politically and legally impossible to re-impose the so-called ‘individual merit’ system.

A boycott could actually be a blessing in disguise for the Movement. The parties would have squandered an opportunity to re-organise their network at the grassroots ahead of the March 2006 presidential, parliamentary and local governments elections.

Certainly, the NRM would take advantage of the Referendum campaign to consolidate its support while continuing its stinging assault on the opposition. It would be wise for the opposition to go out to the grassroots and put its case instead of continuing to grumble from Kampala.

Is boycott a wise move?

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