Legislators have fought for their right not to take a position or side during voting on an issue in the House.
Parliament Rules provide that MPs eligible to vote would have to either vote for, against or abstain. Only ex-officio MPs are not eligible to vote in Parliament.
During the consideration of amendments to the Parliament Rules of Procedure, a section of MPs said that it remains their right and was at the heart of democracy for them not to take either of the three positions – vote for, against or abstain.
“Let us accommodate this democratic practice. It may be my tactic not to vote, because I belong to the minority,” said Hon. Cecilia Atim Ogwal (FDC, Dokolo district).
Hon. Mathias Mpuuga (Ind., Masaka Munic.) said that Commonwealth practice provides a liberal view on issues where Members differ and that a provision of such a nature would become practice and probably copied by other Commonwealth countries.
Hon. Elijah Okupa (FDC, Kasilo) quoted a 2008 case in a Commonwealth country where an MP declined to vote for, against or abstain but chose to protest by standing up in the House.
Other MPs, however said that everyone in the House must take a side since even those that disagreed with the issues on the Floor can abstain.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Human Rights, Hon. Jovah Kamateeka (NRM, Mitooma district) urged colleagues to take a side during a vote considering that they are always encouraging their voters to participate in elections and make their voices heard.
“It is important for us to project a positive image and integrity that we always tell our voters. When it comes to a vote, we should not shy away but take a position,” said Hon. Kamateeka.
Dr. Chris Baryomunsi recommended that the House defines ‘abstention’ to also include MPs that decline to vote or take a position.
The Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, said that all Members eligible to vote must vote either way or leave the Chamber.
“If you are inside the Chamber and the vote is called but you do not want to participate in the vote, you walk out. That’s the decent thing to do,” said Hon. Oulanyah.
“You cannot withdraw quorum if you are in the Chamber. If you are observing, you go to the gallery,” he added.
Following the disagreements, the Deputy Speaker deferred the consideration of the Rules to another sitting.
Meanwhile Parliament approved a new rule giving the Leader of the Opposition leave to make a Statement in response to the President’s State of the Nation Address.
With the provision, the Leader of the Opposition may make a Statement at an appropriate time in response to the State of the Nation Address, the Budget Framework Paper, economic, political and current affairs explaining the position of the Opposition.
Although there has been no such a provision in the Parliament Rules of Procedure, the Speaker has always given space to the LOP to make a response to the President’s State of the Nation Address.
The President, as provided by the Constitution, delivers a State of the Nation Address at the start of a new session of Parliament.
Legislators will now ask questions to the Prime Minister/Leader of Government Business on Thursday and not Wednesday, like has been the case since the slot was introduced in Parliament.
The Government Chief Whip, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa, said that it was hard for the Leader of Government Business/Prime Minister to attend to Question Time on Wednesday, which was also designated as Cabinet day by the President.
In the amendment to the Rules, Prime Minister’s Question Time was moved to Thursday starting at 4.00pm to give two hours for MPs private business starting at 2.00pm on the same day.