Parliament has passed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015 allowing legislators to switch political affiliation or become Independents a year ahead of a general election.
The Bill was passed yesterday, at its Second and Third Readings, following previous plenary sittings in which the House failed to raise the required numbers for the process. For the Bill to pass at its Second Reading and subsequently Third Reading, it required the support of 2/3 (250) of voting Members of Parliament.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015 sought to amend the Constitution in accordance with Articles 259 and 262 of the supreme law.
Currently, the Constitution provides that an MP loses his or her seat upon leaving the political party from which they stood as candidate to join another one; or leaving their party and becoming an Independent, or joining a political party after being elected to Parliament as an independent.
While considering the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Parliament said the provision would not apply within twelve months before the end of the term of a Parliament. Members would be able to participate in activities or programmes of political parties/organizations relating to a general election.
In the vote taken by roll call and tally, 290 MPs supported the Bill, while 33 mostly from the Opposition parties and Independents, voted against. Four members abstained from the vote. At the Third Reading and actual passing of the Bill, 277 MPs supported the passing of the Bill; six MPs voted against, while one abstained.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Stephen Tashobya said the Bill was intended to “allow MPs to cross the floor within twelve months from the end of the term of Parliament, given that the general election dates are not easily ascertainable.”
Government, through a Motion, had earlier on withdrawn a provision in the Bill providing that a Member would lose their seat on ceasing to be a Member of a political party for which he or she stood as a candidate for election to Parliament.
In addition, Parliament shall prescribe the grounds and procedure to be followed by political parties or organizations before terminating a person’s membership to the groups.
Hon. Tashobya said that this was intended “to ensure that political parties or organisations follow a transparent and fair process in disciplining their members.”
Members rejected the amendment providing that the Electoral Commission, which, according to the Bill, would be renamed Independent Electoral Commission, shall consist of a Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and such other members as prescribed by law. The Bill provided that all these persons shall be appointed by the President.
The Attorney General Hon. Fred Ruhindi said government was committed to setting up a Constitution Review Commission to consider issues not handled in the Bill.