Uganda’s Political Parties in dire Financial Situation ahead of 2021 General Elections
Uganda's Political Parties in dire Financial Situation ahead of 2021 General Elections
Political parties in Uganda are broke to the bone marrow going into the 2021 General elections 2021. With the exception of the incumbent National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the parties in opposition are unable to finance not only the electoral campaign costs but also their day to day functioning.
Uganda operates a dual model of political party financing where on one hand parties are entitled to funding from the government while on the other hand, they are permitted to raise funds from other sources albeit with a ceiling of not more than UGX 450 million ($122,000) from a single source.
This undesirable financial situation which opposition political parties find themselves in, is what the 2010 amendment of section 14 of the Political Parties and Organizations Act (2005), sought to cure. The amendment obligates the government to fund political parties and organizations in respect of their normal day to day activities and also elections.
In respect of elections, the Government is enjoined to finance political parties and organizations on equal basis (section 14(b). However, since 2010, the Electoral Commission (EC) seems to have arbitrarily decided to ignore this provision. It was ignored for general elections 2016 and unless a miracle happens, it has been ignored for 2021 elections. The question is, whose interest does this serve?
The EC has elected to only consider section 14(c) which provides that, “in respect of normal day to day activities, funding shall be based on the numerical strength of each political party or organization in Parliament”. Since the financial year 2015/16, the EC has been appropriating UGX 10 billion ($2.7million) which is shared among the five parties represented in Parliament.
These are National Resistance Movement (NRM), Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party (DP), Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) and Justice Forum (JEEMA). The NRM which enjoys numerical superiority in Parliament has been taking the lion’s share as demonstrated below.
UGX 10 BILLION BUDGET APPTOPRIATED FOR POLITICAL PARTIES REPRESENTED IN PARLIAMENT EVERY FINANCIAL YEAR
NUMBER OF SEATS
National Resistance Movement (NRM)
Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)
Democratic Party (DP)
Uganda People’s Congress (UPC)
Justice Forum (JEEMA)
The funds are disbursed on a quarterly basis, but two consecutive quarters namely April-June and July-September 2020, heading into general elections, the funds have not been disbursed, and opposition political parties have not been able to finance meaningful party primary elections.
Why is Financing Important in the functioning of a Political Party?
As complex organizations that are at the heart of democracy, political parties require substantial financial resources to perform their functions. They require a conducive political environment, but most importantly, money is the all-important oil that keeps the political party machinery going.
Today, it is almost inconceivable to have a functioning democracy without functional political parties. This is because political parties serve the strategic purpose of aggregating and articulating the interests of the electorate, they develop competing policy proposals as well as identifying and glooming future leaders that are presented to the electorate as candidates for political office.
Experience has proved that political parties win or lose elections well before they are held simply on account of their campaign war chest. resource endowment or lack thereof. Imagine the following two scenarios.
Scenario one, if all political parties in Uganda had access to the same volume of financial resources as does the NRM party, would the electoral result be the same? Scenario two is, if one flipped the page a little bit to allow a situation where the funds available to the NRM party are given to one ANT and vice versa, would the NRM still go on to win the coming election?
Who else is to blame for the Financial Woes of Opposition Political Parties in Uganda?
The Government in power should carry a fair share of the blame. It was President Yoweri Museveni during one of his public addresses in 2016 when he predicted that there will be no functional opposition political parties come 2020. It is under his watch that the coercive organs of the state have shrunk the political space for opposition political parties and/or their leaders to mobilize at the grass-root level.
There is a growing perception that private businessmen who get to support opposition political parties financially, end up being victimized and pushed out of business. Without funds, political parties and organizations are deprived of the “oxygen” to stay alive and articulate alternative political and policy positions.
Telling from the manner in which political parties in Uganda have practiced – or failed to practice – intra-party democracy, has to a large extent been influenced by the size of their resource envelope and the way they are financed.
If we have chosen democracy as the best vehicle for choosing and changing leadership, we must ensure that political parties and organizations gain access to adequate financing for both day-to-day activities and election campaigns