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President Yoweri Museveni on Focus on Africa
"If they want to vote in the wrong way ... that's their choice"
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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Multi-party, no-party: Uganda's choice
Yoweri Museveni
Museveni says the controversial system has brought stability
By Anna Borzello in Kampala

Thursday's referendum presents Ugandans with the choice between retaining the current "no-party" (or "Movement") system of government, and returning to multi-party rule.

Ugandans appear to believe they are voting for or against Museveni - and if the vote reveals anything it will be the extent of his popularity

President Yoweri Museveni, who introduced the "Movement" system when he seized power after a five-year guerrilla struggle in 1986, argues that it is an alternate form of democracy.

Under the current system, political parties are allowed to exist but not to organise.

Elections are instead held on the basis of individual merit, and anybody can stand for office, but not on a party platform.

Museveni argues that Uganda's troubled past - up to half a million people were killed between 1971-1986 in state-sponsored violence - is due to political parties exploiting ethnic, tribal and religious divisions.

Tolerant western donors

Uganda's achievements in the past 14 years seem to justify his arguments and the international community, which has been keen to push for party politics elsewhere on the continent, has been tolerant of Museveni's "Movement" system.

After years as a pariah state, Uganda is now a World Bank favourite and the country has seen relative peace and stability, despite continued insecurity in the north and west of the country and Uganda's controversial intervention in the war in DR Congo.

Idi Amin of Uganda
Former military ruler Idi Amin unleashed a reign of terror in Uganda
Museveni's opponents, however, do not agree. They point out that there can never be a justification for putting the fundamental right of association and assembly to the vote.

The main political parties are instead calling for Ugandans to boycott the polls.

They accuse Museveni of running a thinly veiled version of a one-party state and say that the referendum is no more than an attempt to consolidate the ruling party's grip on power.


Even without the problem of the boycott, the run-up to the referendum has not run smoothly.

Movement supporters admit that party politics is Uganda's ultimate goal

The process began late and controversially - with the referendum bill passed into law, allegedly without quorum. It then proceeded at a halting pace.

The loose coalition of little known multi-party advocates who are representing the party side have been more concerned about quarrelling for money than educating the voters, and have been further divided by more in-fighting.

Even some of the electoral commissioners, who are overseeing the process, have admitted it has been severely hampered by inadequate funding for civic education and campaigns.

The multi-party camp has held only a handful of rallies, while Museveni has toured every district canvassing for votes, presumably using state funds.

As a result most Ugandans appear to believe they are voting for or against Museveni - and if the vote reveals anything it will be the extent of his popularity.

Ultimate democracy

The issue of whether restricting opposition is good for Uganda in the long run has not been debated.

"Movement" supporters admit that party politics is Uganda's ultimate goal, but refuse to say when they think the country will be ready to make that transition.

There is no automatic constitutional provision for further referenda to be held on this subject, so the "Movement" could be around for some time to come.

Some opposition supporters say that if the "Movement" wins they will begin campaigning for a change to Uganda's constitution.

But others hint that if they are locked out of political life they could resort to "going to the bush" - a euphemism for taking up arms against the state.

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See also:

06 Jan 00 | Africa
Uganda's fight for its children
07 Jun 00 | Africa
How Uganda and Rwanda fell out
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