Published by Patra K on

Political party capture a reason for the burgeoning number of independent candidates

Photo Courtesy of independent.co.ug

Independent candidates outnumbered Political parties’ sponsored candidates in Uganda’s 2021 general elections. In the Presidential race, out of the eleven candidates that contested, six ran as independents. Meanwhile on the Parliamentary level, out of 2664 candidates nominated for Directly Elected Member of Parliament (DEMP) and District Woman Representative (DWR), 1334 ran as independent candidates. When it came to Local Government Position for District/City Chairpersons, 620 candidates were nominated but out of that number, 319 ran as independents. 

Cumulatively, out of 3295 candidates nominated for elective positions under the category of Presidential, Parliamentary (DEMP & DWR), and Local Government District/City chairpersons’ races, 1659 were independent candidates. This implies that 50.3% of candidates who contested were independent candidates where 49.7% were under Political party sponsorship.

With such an increasing number of independents candidates, we are left with a lot of questions that need answers. Firstly, do political aspirants still consider political parties as embodiments of political ideology and platforms for mentoring future leaders? And secondly, can multiparty political dispensation survive in the wake of a growing number of candidates standing as independents?

In attempting to answer the questions, it’s important for us to note that political parties are the main gatekeepers for candidates to participate in an election, in that they have great influence in determining which candidates are nominated and elected. Though political parties are instrumental in deepening democratic advancement, most political aspirants in Uganda today do not look at political parties as embodiments of political ideology and platforms for mentoring future leaders -why? Most Political parties are in captivity by either an individual or group of individuals who largely finance the operations of the parties. 

Because political party financing in Uganda is still a challenge, where majority of the parties survive majorly on contributions from party founders and not members, in the process, the founders become more powerful than the party itself. As such, they often use this financial advantage to control and influence decision-making processes in the party, consciously or subconsciously capturing the parties.

This capture leads to internal party politics that determines who contests on the party ticket to be settled by a few cliques of individuals who ‘own’ by financial contribution the political party. This undemocratic process has made most political aspirants opt to contest as independents and not on party tickets. Even those who attempt to go through the political party process, end up running as independents accusing political parties of foul play.

The foul play manifests in form of ring-fencing of political positions which is done through hiking of nomination fees, handpicking of candidates especially those with money, and selling of party positions. Such difficulties that political aspirants face while trying to associate with political parties explain why many of them had no chance rather than vying for political positions as independent candidates.

Addressing the problem of independent candidates will require deliberate strengthening of political parties to address the underlying internal weakness that is partly a result of the financing gaps existing within parties. Until then, the problem of independent candidates will exacerbate at the expense of deepening multi-party politics in Uganda.

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