Policy Paper    18th Jan, 2018

Uganda’s Political Outlook Post the 2016 Elections

While the political opposition has made an outright rejection of the election outcome, which handed victory to the National Resistance Movement (NRM), agents of the ruling party have tenaciously accused their competitors of being bad losers who lack the humility to accept defeat. Whatever the case may be, widely observed gaps in the electoral process as well as the questionable conduct of diverse agents—Electoral Management Body (EMB), political parties, and candidates—before, during and after the polls cast a shadow on the development of systems, processes and culture of democratic practice.

by Emmanuel Kitamirike

Introduction

The 2016 post-election environment in Uganda has been characterised by polarised perspectives regarding whether the country is progressing or retrogressing on the path to democratic development. While the political opposition has made an outright rejection of the election outcome, which handed victory to the National Resistance Movement (NRM), agents of the ruling party have tenaciously accused their competitors of being bad losers who lack the humility to accept defeat. Whatever the case may be, widely observed gaps in the electoral process as well as the questionable conduct of diverse agents—Electoral Management Body (EMB), political parties, and candidates—before, during and after the polls cast a shadow on the development of systems, processes and culture of democratic practice. Such circumstances underpin the need to interrogate the state of multiparty democracy at the turn of Uganda’s third general election since the legal reintroduction of political pluralism in 2005, whilst reflecting on what can be promising approaches and policies to strengthening pluralistic democracy.

This paper examines key issues around Uganda’s third multiparty elections and the political environment following the polls. We explore the shaky foundation against which multiparty democracy was restored, which was underpinned by a dominant, state-cushioned NRM party competing against a weakened opposition. The paper furthermore assesses the context within which the 2016 general elections were conducted, which included the absence of a level playing field and the intermittent failure by opposition groups to achieve major political reforms proposed ahead of the polls. It finally debates alternative approaches to fostering democracy in a constrained environment, which is characteristic of the Ugandan political set-up.

To set the context, we argue that, promising approaches and practices to political reform in the Ugandan context will be those that take a two-pronged approach. First, we suggest the need to secure a buy-in of NRM protagonists—as a dominant group in the current political set-up. Our proposition builds on theoretical arguments that reforms occur when influential groups are persuaded to believe that change is in their interest (North, Wallis, & Weingast, 2009). It is also supported by previous examples in the Ugandan context where attempts to force reforms that lack NRM’s support have mostly been unsuccessful. In this regard, our projection for the next electoral cycle draws on statistics emerging from the recent elections, which show that the NRM has retained a comfortable control of parliament and local councils, yet it still enjoys a privileged association with state structures.

The second strand in our suggested approach relates to strengthening the organisational capacity of opposition political parties and civil society groups. Drawing further on North et al (2009), we consider organisations as important tools for coordinating collective goals as well as for seeking to dominate and coerce others towards group agendas. Reform agitators however, need to be cautious of the catastrophic tendency to view civil society narrowly as professional nongovernmental organisations and ignoring organic groups with specific interests in politics. Furthermore, we argue under this approach that civil society can only facilitate but not lead a process of political bargain, which should have political organisations with clear political agendas taking the front seat.

The rest of this paper is organised as follows: section two discusses the Ugandan multiparty context highlighting the shaky foundation against which political pluralism was reintroduced. Section three evaluates the 2016 elections with a focus on the implications for multiparty-ism and democratic practice. Section four evaluates the possibility of reform and suggests promising approaches while section five provides the conclusion.

Read the full paper here

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