Friday, April 8, 2016

Campaign Finance in Uganda

Campaign finance is sine-qua-non in all democracies. Contestants to all elective offices have to spend a lot of money on different aspects of their campaigns ranging from purchase of expression of interest and nomination forms, setting up of campaign offices, hiring of consultants and vendors, renting and setting up of campaign venues, communication and publicity, and several other logistics. Politics is therefore not a tea party. It is a rich man’s game.

I was an accredited short term observer under the aegis of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) during the just concluded general elections in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. I was there from February 12 – 22, 2016 and observed the presidential and parliamentary elections in Masaka District. Before our deployment to area of observation, from February 13 – 15 we received briefings from various actors and stakeholders in the electoral process ranging from civil society organisations, the Electoral Commission of Uganda, representatives of political parties, and EISA secretariat staff.

In the course of the briefings, I was able to garner a lot of information about the Ugandan political system. While the country has a lot of similar features to Nigeria’s political system, there are also a few variations. For example, just like in Nigeria, Uganda runs a multi-party system and has 29 registered political parties. However, in addition, it has provision for independent candidates. In fact, four out of eight presidential candidates that contested the February 18, 2016 presidential poll vied for the position as independent candidates. As with the case in Nigeria which though is a de jure multi-party democracy but a de facto two party state (All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party; similarly, Uganda though a multiparty country however has two dominant parties viz. National Resistant Movement (NRM) which controls the presidency and the parliament as well as Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) which is the main opposition party.

The registration of political parties in Uganda is regulated by the Political Parties and Organisations Act. The procedures for nominating candidates vary, depending on the position being contested. For presidential seat, aspirants must obtain support from at least 100 registered voters from at least two thirds or seventy-five of the country’s 112 Districts. In addition, presidential candidates are also required to pay a non-refundable sum of UGX20m (Twenty million Ugandan Shillings, equivalent of $5,797) while parliamentary candidates pay non-refundable fee of UGX3m, equivalent of $870. It is noteworthy that this money is paid directly to Ugandan Government treasury and not to the country’s Electoral Commission. This is unlike what obtains in Nigeria where contestants only pay Expression of Interest and Nomination Fees to their political parties. In addition, contestants under party platform also pay to obtain Expression of Interest Form. In NRM, which is the ruling party, about UGX2m is charged each aspirant.

It was reliably gathered that the nomination fees charged by government was hiked last September or thereabout when government rushed through amendment of the old regulation on the eve of commencement of political campaigns. This sudden and unprecedented increment reportedly scared away female contestants who do not have financial war chest to bankroll their political ambition.

It is worth being flagged that campaign finance regulation in Uganda is very weak. There is no ceiling to the amount each candidate can raise and spend on their electioneering campaigns. However, there are limits to the amount foreign government and corporations can donate to the campaign funds of political contestants. The law also forbids the use of State and Administrative Resources (SARs) for campaign. Ugandan law equally criminalises vote buying. Unfortunately, these regulations are observed in breach and with impunity. During the just concluded general elections, a lot of vote buying allegedly took place especially by the National Resistant Movement candidates. There is a saying in Uganda that “I’ll eat quietly and vote wisely.” In fact, this may not hold true as it was reported that electoral victory in Uganda is tangentially related to vote buying.

There was also gross abuse of state and administrative resources.  The incumbent president patently used SARs to his advantage and the disadvantage of opposition candidates. There was repression of opposition candidates by government security forces. On more than one occasion, the campaign rallies of main opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Bisigye of the Forum for Democratic Change was disrupted. He was also severally arrested without prosecution. The media was not left out; there were reports of uneven media coverage. There were alleged threats to media houses who allow opposition political parties and candidates to campaign on their stations. The candidates of NRM on the other hand have unfettered coverage in the media. It is worth mentioning that in order to shut out opposition parties from independently reporting election irregularities, the social media platform viz. Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp were shut down on February 18 and 19, 2016 in Uganda.

Given the quantum of the financial resources as well as SAR deployed by the National Resistance Movement towards the 2016 Ugandan General Elections, it does not come as a surprise to many keen observer of the political climate in the country that the party won majority of seats in the parliament while its presidential candidate, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won the presidential election for the record sixth time of five years each. This current victory will extend his reign to 35 years having already being in power for 30 years. It is however not all rosy for NRM candidates all over as 19 ministers in Museveni’s candidates lost their re-election bid.