Is the new LC election system fair?

By Vision Reporter

A recent parliamentary amendment in the Local Government Act 1997, introduced two major changes to the election system of the lower local councils: Village and parish chairpersons will be elected by secret ballot while the LC chairpersons will nominate members of the executive committee after being

By Anthony Mugeere A recent parliamentary amendment in the Local Government Act 1997, introduced two major changes to the election system of the lower local councils: Village and parish chairpersons will be elected by secret ballot while the LC chairpersons will nominate members of the executive committee after being elected into office. The new provision phases out the system of lining-up during the election of village and parish chairpersons and committees. It also gives the village and parish councils powers to approve the nominations of the committee members by their respective chairpersons. The proponents of the amendment to Clause 39 of the Act insist that it will give more punch to the decentralisation process. The functions, powers and services of the local councils, particularly at the village and parish levels will be greatly streamlined. The new amendment will also ensure smooth implementation of the policy. A cross-section of the incumbent local council leaders interviewed welcomed the new provision particularly the abolition of the lining-up system, which was used in the past local council elections. “The lining-up system creates enmity and would make it difficult for people to make independent decisions particularly the women,” says John Batala, chairman of Balawoli sub-county council, Kamuli district. “Some women would fear to line up behind candidates who are not the choice of their husbands. Even some men would fear to line up behind certain candidates for other reasons. Some would eventually decide to stay away on polling day.” Like many other incumbents, Batala says the amendment to give LC chairpersons powers to nominate members of the executive committee after being elected into office will do no harm to the democratisation process. “It is true some people are sceptical about it but it is okay for me because it is the wananchi themselves who will approve the executive members. They will be free to reject the ones they do not want,” he explained. However, the rejection of nominees to the executive may be easier for the electorate than financing an election where a chairperson of every village zone is elected by secret ballot. Critics say the new system is very expensive in terms of providing electoral materials and manpower to organise and supervise the elections. The Electoral Commission must be pondering how it will provide ballot papers with the faces of all candidates at the numerous polling stations at every village and parish. The commission should also brace itself for endless petitions as many losers are likely to drag it to court over alleged malpractices and vote rigging. “You can imagine what will happen if 5,000 village council and parish election losers petition over malpractices,” remarked John Kayongo, a local councillor in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb. “There is a possibility of endless petitions under the new arrangement which wasn’t the case under the system of lining up. In the end, it could do more harm than good to our electoral system,” he adds. The general secretary Zone 7, Mbuya II Parish, Nakawa Division, David Mawanda, said the new system under which the LC chairpersons will nominate members of the executive will promote dictatorship, tribalism, nepotism and arrogance. Above all, he says, there will be no job security for the members of the executive since the chairperson has powers to dismiss them without consultation. “The chairpersons will be arrogant and dictatorial because they will know that they have full powers to hire and fire. They will also not be accountable and transparent to the executive because they will know that they have all the support of its members,” he added. Ali Walugembe, an employee of Nakasero Soap Works in Mbuya says members of the executive appointed by the chairperson will always aspire to please the appointing authority at the expense of the electorate. “It is a bad law which only breeds dictatorship,” he said bitterly. John Kakande, a senior parliamentary reporter says the new amendment could prove a setback to the general LC system. According to him, local council executive members ‘hand picked’ by a chairperson cannot freely take an independent stand on contentious issues. Though they will need the approval of the general village council, Kakande argues, that the executive members may for instance develop cold feet when a motion to move a vote of no confidence in their leader is mooted. “The decision to give powers to the chairpersons to appoint the executive committee members is the most irritating and politically disastrous,” he says. “I see no valid reasons that prompted the MPs to take this decision...It is clear this new provision would undermine democratic governance at the local levels and must be scrapped.” With memories of the June presidential elections still vivid in most people’s minds, analysts say the new system undermines the principle of individual merit on which the movement system is based. In areas where a multi-partyist is for instance elected chairperson of a village or parish council, there is less likelihood of having movementists on the executive council. The reverse could also be true. “Most people elect LC officials basing on their ability so this new arrangement may reverse that principle,” said a political analyst, adding that, “we may end up with executive councils polarised along movement and party lines.” A local councillor who talked to Talk of the Town on condition of anonymity at Ntinda trading centre, said some people have already started talking about having executives comprising only officials from either the movement or multi-party camps. “Those who supported Besigye in the last presidential elections say they do not want the Museveni people on their executives while the Museveni people are vowing not to appoint Besigye’s supporters on their executive committees,” he said. Electoral Commission (EC) deputy spokesperson Teddy Mugote says her organisation has decided to introduce symbols to be used by candidates instead of faces on ballot papers. The 10 symbols, which have already been approved include a ball, bicycle, book, clock, cow, cup, key, radio, weighing scale and tree. Candidates will be required to choose any of the symbols which they will identify themselves with for election purposes. Not more than 10 candidates are expected to stand at any particular village or parish, EC officials envisage. But critics say symbols will confuse the electorate, especially where the majority of are illiterate. They prescribe multiple ballot boxes for various candidates instead of symbols which they say incre-ase the chances of rigging. “It is easy for a candidate to bribe a presiding officer to tick one symbol for a particular candidate,” argued Mawanda. “The EC should ask every aspirant to pay a non-refundable fee of sh20,000 to print ballot papers with their photographs even if this means postponing the elections to next year,” he added. Although a date has not yet been set for the LC elections, excitement is building up in most parts of the country. As aspirants declare their intentions to stand at the village and parish levels, the focus now turns on how the merits of the new system will work against its shortcomings. ends

Is the new LC election system fair?