The Fallacy of People Power


The concept of people power remains elusive both conceptually and empirically, and is the ‘most hidden’ part of human relations, and the very concept may be ‘essentially contested’, meaning the subjective assumptions needed to analyse it are inherently value-dependent.

This suggests the term itself is ‘polysomic’ and can be defined to include or exclude a range of phenomena such as authority, influence, coercion, force, manipulation and domination. So the discussion should be on whether the voters have power beyond voting? If people’s votes are likely to be purchased doesn’t that demystify their concept of community participation?

Representative democracy

This concept is engrained in Uganda’s constitution in Article 38 which states that, (1) Every Uganda citizen has the right to participate in the affairs of government, individually or through his or her representatives in accordance with law. (2) Every Ugandan has a right to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic organisations.

Many Scholars have argued that the challenge with Representative democracy is the enormous cost. Article 63 of the Constitution provides the following guidelines for demarcation of constituencies; (i) Uganda shall be divided into as many constituencies for purposes of election of members of parliament as parliament may prescribe. (ii) Each county as approved by parliament must have at least one Member of Parliament. (iii) No constituency shall fall within more than one county. With this demarcation throughout the country, there have been new additions to the constituencies.

The power to recall leaders

big question though is whether registered voters can recall a Member of Parliament under the current legal political regime. There is an interesting procedure whereby the electorate has the right to recall their member of parliament if dissatisfied with what the elected member is doing; a number of grounds are laid out in Article 84(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

The challenge is that while debating the Constitutional Amendment Bill No 3 at the committee stage on, 191 MPs voted to amend Article 84 of the Constitution by adding that the right to recall an MP shall only exist while the Movement system is in operation. As it stands now, Uganda is under the multiparty dispensation and it means that the right to recall a member of parliament is simply non-existent.

This implies that political participation for the voter stops only at voting and the voter has no other means of checking a legislator or trimming their powers by recalling them from the house. Thus with the pitfalls of the voting process which is marred by rigging, the citizen is deprived of a second chance to participate in case they want their MP out before their term ends. But as it stands now, the article is without force of authority as we are in a multiparty democracy.

Is community participation relevant?

Community participation loses its meaning if the voter only has power to vote, and in most cases where the elections are bloated and disputed, and stops at that.

MPs are ex-officios of District Councils but they rarely attend such council meetings to follow up the government activities. This is against a challenge that the electorate is always blackmailed to vote for the right Party Members who will work with the head of the Executive. This is wrong on all fronts, first it defeats the process of elective democracy because the voters don’t want to defy the head of the executive and suffer lack of service delivery.

What is the purpose of recall? A recall keeps the members elected in check and keeps the citizenry active looking out at whether their representatives are delivering. Furthermore, it helps to empower the true meaning of community participation as participation remains continuous and not something to wait for, every five years.

A recall also has its downsides; those against it argue that it could be used by the losing candidate to get the two thirds signatures for any flimsy reason. However this concern is cured by article 84 which states the reasons for a recall. The Electoral commission is mandated with carrying out investigations and reporting its findings to the speaker and if satisfied with the petition, the Speaker shall declare the seat vacant. The framers of the constitution were mindful of the fact that there could be malice and intrigue and that’s why the process is elaborate and fair.


Clause 6 of the same article states that Parliament shall by law prescribe the procedure to be followed during a recall and I guess rules of natural justice would be included. Aspects like right to be heard and right of reply to a petition for a recall would feature for the process to pass the test of a fair hearing.

Of course this is one area that would bring the MPs together, and they would not pave way for their recall. And so, article 84 will remain redundant as it is. This clearly defeats the concept of people power and makes elective democracy an illusory practice.

I always cynically refer to elections as the process of getting campaign funds from the rich, then buying the poor while promising protection to both groups against each other.

This article appears in our weekly law newsletter, The Deuteronomy, Volume 5, Issue 3 of August 19th, 2016. It’s full title is, “The Fallacy of People power and Community Participation in Parliamentary Elections; A Case of Uganda”.


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