Internal Party Democracy is critical ahead of Uganda's 2016 elections

We live in a business world today, where the concept of competition has gained a lot of prominence.  Entrepreneurs are cutting their teeth in matching the competitors in their space.  And because of this environment, creativity, innovation, invention, name it are becoming so staple in today’s business world.  The doctrines of business that were once confined to the economic society have gradually spread into the social and political drapery.  Attempts to be democratic or appear to be democratic in many societies have further exhilarated the spirit of political competition – painting politics as a field exclusive to only those able to withstand the “heat”.  Political competition in itself is not bad and therefore we shouldn’t groan under the strain of competitive politics but rather sanitize that competition to ensure that every member of society feels confident and respected to participate in politics both at a political party level and at the national level.

Today, the focus of my piece will be on competition within political parties – usually defined as intraparty democracy vis-à-vis democratic theorization and practice at the national level.

Political parties in Uganda are already gearing up to aptly position themselves for the 2016 elections.  Part of this process will involve identification of respective political party candidates or ‘flag bearers’, as they are commonly known.  As can be adjudged from previous election cycles, this is normally where the true test of internal party democracy lies.  In past elections, there have been incidents where bonafide members of political parties have been maneuvered out from participating in their own parties’ internal electoral processes.  In other parties, candidate identification processes have turned as ferocious as the events leading to the capture of the Bastille in the famous French revolution times.  These occurrences are just a tip of what happens in some political parties as they tread the road to identifying their leaders and candidates. Whereas these may be defined as internal party processes/actions, they (could) have a far-reaching impact on the broader country level political practices and the growth or reversal of democracy in particular. 

Therefore, as Uganda heads for the political party candidate identification processes this time round, the tension between external and internal dimensions of party democracy should be areas to pay attention to, in this season. 

It is very possible for a political party or organization to profess democratic ideals at an external level while pursuing undemocratic principles on the inside of it.  It is very difficult to explore the broader factors of democratization on a national scale without concerning ourselves with the democracy promotion efforts within parties.  Like one of the political party heads in Uganda likes to say, “you can not give what you do not have”.

It is therefore critical that political parties do not only profess to espouse the rules of the game but also apply these rules indoors, freely and fairly. By the same token, this time round, the electorate must ask, therefore, whether a party's election manifesto is coherent to the party’s supposed internal democratic structures and practices.

Frameworks such as the National Consultative Forum (NCF) and the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) should in this case play a central role in supporting internal democratic processes within political parties and organisations.  Supervisory outfits including, but not limited to Uganda’s Electoral Management Body and the court system should be willing and able to crack the whip on non-democratic parties.  And to buttress this, our legal provisions need to explicitly recognize the importance of party structures and internal party democracy.

Continuing to ignore the crucial processes relating to internal democratic behavior of political parties runs counter to the foundations of modern day democracy.  Political parties and organisations are public entities – that’s why there are concepts like ‘public’ financing for political parties; that’s why we have laws such as the Political Parties and Organisations Act etc.  These are all meant to demonstrate how ‘public’ political parties are.  And if they are indeed public institutions, then we must scrutinize them the same way we would do for other public institutions and offices such as ministries, constitutional bodies etc.

It is thus important that as parties and political organizations embark on their candidate identification processes, they must ensure inclusivity as well as uphold internal democratic practices.  They too must avoid discriminatory practices.  Those parties that have previously embraced oligarchic structures and tendencies that deny members the ability to affect the party leadership must uniquely consider this season to pursue a holistic democratic approach to managing their internal and external party’ business.


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