(Feb. 7, 2011) On February 1, 2011, the Ugandan Constitutional Court issued a ruling that may force 70 of the 332-member unicameral Ugandan Parliament to vacate their seats. The ruling found it unconstitutional for an MP to switch party affiliations without vacating his/her office. (Ephraim Kasozi, 70 MPs Must Lose Seats, Orders Court, DAILY NATION (Feb. 2, 2011), http://tinyurl.com/6g59eh5.) The ruling was issued in response to a petition instituted against an MP who joined Uganda's eighth Parliament as an independent and was nominated to run as a member of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party for the ninth Parliament, without having first vacated his seat. At issue was whether the respondent's act of joining the NRM party without having first vacated the seat violated the Ugandan Constitution. Also at issue was whether the respondent's nomination to run as an NRM party member for the next Parliament in that circumstance contravened the Ugandan Constitution.
The five-judge panel of the Court unanimously found that an MP who won a seat in Parliament as an independent could not continue to hold his/her seat after joining a party midstream and that it was unconstitutional for an MP elected as an independent to be nominated as a flag bearer of a party while still a member of Parliament. (George Owor v. Attorney General & Anor (Const. Pet. No. 038 of 2010)  UGCC 1 ( Feb. 1, 2011), Ugandan Legal Information Institute portal, http://tinyurl.com/5t49fnj.)
The Ugandan Constitution, the Court noted, was “very simple and clear” on the issue of when an MP is required to vacate his/her seat; namely, in the following circumstances:
- If that person leaves the political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to Parliament to join another party or to remain in Parliament as an independent member; [or]
- if, having been elected to Parliament as an independent candidate that person joins a political party.
(Id.; see also Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, § 83(1)(g), Embassy of the Republic of Uganda, Washington DC website, http://tinyurl.com/4jty5fv (last visited Feb. 3, 2011).)
The Court in its ruling underlined the importance of strict adherence to section 83 of the Ugandan Constitution, which, it stated, was added to the Constitution in 2005 “to give meaning to the constitutional provision relating to the decision of the people of Uganda to turn to a multiparty political system … .” (George Owor Vs. Attorney General & Anor, supra.)
In explaining the raison d'être of its ruling on the constitutional prohibition against maintaining a parliamentary seat obtained as a member of one party while running for office as a member of another party, it noted:
You cannot, in a multiparty political system continue to represent the electorate on a party basis in Parliament while at the same time offering yourself for election for the next Parliament on the ticket of a different political party or as an independent. It would be a betrayal of the people who elected you and an exhibition of the highest form of political hypocrisy and opportunism the evil, we believe, article 83(1)(g) of the Constitution was designed to prevent. It is also an exhibition of political indiscipline and an abuse of peoples [sic] sovereignty which is so strongly enshrined in our Constitution. (Id.)
It is not yet clear whether this ruling will disqualify MPs who are currently in violation of section 83 from participating in the elections scheduled for February 18, 2011. The Constitutional Court, in its decision, ordered MPs in violation of that section to vacate their seats immediately. The Court also ordered its Registrar to deliver copies of the decision to the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission. (Id.) However, affected MPs have appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, preventing the implementation of the ruling at least temporarily. (Disqualified MPs to Appeal Decision to UG Supreme Court</em
, KAMPALA DISPATCH (Feb. 2, 2011), http://tinyurl.com/63aayll.)