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Legislating identity representation in Uganda

Vibeke Wang
Universitetet i Bergen
Ragnhild Louise Muriaas
Universitetet i Bergen
Vibeke Wang
Universitetet i Bergen
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Abstract

In 2006, Uganda held its first multiparty elections in over two decades. Given Uganda’s history of a ‘no-party system’ this election marked an interesting shift in how political representatives had to reflect on their role. This was particularly the case for representatives elected through special interest seats such as women, youth, persons with disabilities, elderly, workers and the military. Under the Movement system, these representatives were supposed to represent the interests of marginalised groups and contribute to regime legitimacy and stability. The introduction of a multiparty dispensation made it necessary to re-think and discuss the representation of these groups. Whilst legislated quotas may contribute to jump-start the representation of marginalised groups in political institutions, reservation of special interest group seats has commonly been criticised for being more prone to manipulation than elections to openly contested constituency seats. Does this criticism apply to the Ugandan case? More specifically, the paper looks at the relationship between identity representation and the dominant political party’s ability to stay in power. To investigate this, the paper draws on data collected during two field studies in Uganda. One conducted ahead of the multiparty elections in 2006 and one study of the national parliament carried out in 2010. We find that since the 1989 introduction of reserved seat quotas, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has been able to take advantage of the policy to bolster its power. The quota policy represents few costs and high gains for the incumbent regime. It strengthens NRM’s position vis-à-vis the opposition, reinforces existing patronage structures and contributes to international approval of the NRM hegemony. At the same time, quotas have opened up political space for groups that on certain issues just as easily identify with their interest group as with the NRM. These representatives have pressed for women-friendly and disable-friendly legislation and have to some extent been rewarded.