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Personalities vs. Manifestos; Maturity of Ugandan electorate on test

Isa Senkumba

Personalities vs. Manifestos; Maturity of Ugandan electorate on test

Besigye in Kisoro

FDC presidential contender Besigye in Kisoro. Besigye kicked off his campaign even before launching his manifesto

The ‘political race to 2016′ as the media has termed it is already on. About eight presidential candidates have rolled their sleeves up and embarked on the prowl for support from voters come 2016 presidential elections. At this time voters are divided between those who want to listen to manifestos and those who only pay attention to personalities. To my dismay the Ugandan electorate pays more attention to personalities rather than manifestos.

Recently my twenty year old student asked me for the meaning of a manifesto. Yes, is an eligible voter. It is therefore a wrong assumption that our voters understand what is meant by manifestos and their relevancy both in election period and thereafter.

Election manifesto is a vision and mission of contestant political parties that stand for upcoming election. This is an agenda for future plan made by the political parties and then communicated to the voters. In the event that a political party wins the election it is bound to implement the same (manifesto) that was pre-committed with the people.

Anytime a nation prepares for general elections, a great deal of effort goes into campaigning. An integral part of political party campaigning is the use of party manifestos to outline the vision of a political party. It is an opportunity for the parties to convey their ideologies, plans and development strategies to the voters.  It also gives voters a platform to decide on who to vote and later demand for what was promised in the manifesto.

Democratic values are indeed entrenched in accountability. A manifesto is therefore very useful and serves as an important benchmark for measuring the performance of a Government and ensuring that it becomes accountable to the electorate based on the promises outlined in the manifesto. An incumbent party that has failed to fulfill its manifesto without a satisfying excuse can now be voted against.

However, it is also important to note that for a sustained development process to become a reality, national visions other than political party manifestos must become prime components in development planning. Political parties would do the nation a great service if they ensure that they relate their manifestos to such a strategic framework which carry the development vision of the entire nation. The nation should remain bigger than a political party.

In a country like Uganda where democratic governance is still a fragile and evolving phenomenon manifestos are greatly needed to enable voters assess political parties as well as candidates. Manifestos are meant to provide a road map highlighting the unique vision of different political parties for tackling major challenges facing particular countries. Political manifestos can thus provide a tangible means for voters to assess and reward political parties on the basis of their performance,

You are aware that politicians have persuasive tongues. The way they promise a heaven here on earth and people get convinced is simply amazing. These are chaps that can promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.  These manifestos should not act as documents, promises or grandiose aspirations aiming to attract as many voters as they can. Candidates should separate rhetorical statements from assertions with more substantive policy implications because at the end of the day they will be asked to account.

The level of maturity of the electorate is best measured by looking at what people vote for in a political contest. If the biggest chunk of our electorate votes personalities rather than policies then we have a long way to go.  During the 2011 Presidential race in Uganda, I heard a certain lady over the radio saying that she was not ready to vote an ugly man for President, referring to one of the candidates.  In her opinion beauty is the most important credential for a president. The unfortunate bit of it is that her opinion represents the opinions of most women.

The cardinal reason why Ugandan voters regret having sent the wrong people into office is because they vote personalities instead of manifestos.

It is time to pay more attention on what candidates have in stock for this country, particularly how they intend to take us to the Promised Land. Let’s weigh candidates’/ parties’ manifestos and their ability to deliver on them after being given a chance. Let’s also demand that manifestos are fulfilled.

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