People & Power
We must have a new EC by end of April - Otunnu
Posted Sunday, March 2 2014 at 02:00
UPC party president Olara Otunnu is spearheading the political parties civil society and other independent Ugandans in demanding change in the way elections in the country are handled through what they have called a ‘basket’ of demands. Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega caught up with him.
How did the ‘basket’ of demands come about?
The Basket of Demands has been the outcome of an evolutionary process. We have been concerned about the issue of free and fair elections since 2010 under the Inter Party Coalition, where we had agreed on several specific demands. At that moment, we had placed Museveni under enormous pressure, both domestically and, to some extent, internationally as well. Sadly, we had a sudden U-turn from within the IPC ranks, even though we could see what was coming. This was a tragic error, for which Ugandans have paid a very high price.
Soon after the 2011 elections all political parties, with the exception of NRM, agreed that the just concluded elections were indeed a complete sham. That led to the initiative called Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE). This is when we agreed to challenge the regime directly, and to conduct civil disobedience and hold defiant marches on the streets (Walk-to-Work).
Early last year, opposition political parties regrouped; it was then that my colleagues asked me to chair and coordinate the efforts to reconstruct our co-operation.
We agreed that the first project on which we must all work together should be the demand for free and fair elections. We (CP, DP, FDC, JEEMA and UPC) then decided to expand the base and reach out to civil society organisations, later expanded further by inviting selected national leaders, like the former Katikkiro of Buganda Muliika and Semwogerere, Ms Rhoda Kalema, Bishop Ochola, Miria Matembe, the Rev Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, Prof Oloka Oyango and others, to join us. It was these three sectors of leadership that unanimously adopted “The Call for Free and Fair Elections Now!” and the companion document” Proposals for a New Electoral Management System”.
The first document contains a Basket of Demands - 10 demands - highlighting mischiefs that have bedeviled previous elections. In the second document we make specific and concrete proposals to cure the principal ills identified in the first document. This is the campaign we launched at Makerere recently.
You demand for the reinstatement of presidential term limit, which was removed through constitutional amendment. How far have you gone to have the Constitution amended to reinstate term limits?
The demand for the reinstatement of the presidential term limits is not actually an integral part of the Basket of Demands. However, it’s a critical related issue. The lifting of presidential term limits has done great damage to the democratic process in the country. That is why we have included this as a related demand. Our members of Parliament were insistent on this.
What we are facing is a political problem; it cannot be solved through a technical or purely legislative project. Once there is political consensus on a new system for organising and managing elections, there should be no problem in amending relevant laws and the constitution to reflect what has been agreed upon.
You seem very much preoccupied with the issue of impunity in this project. Can you explain this?
Yes, what we are facing, above all, is impunity. The measures we have proposed are therefore designed to curb entrenched, wholesale impunity in the current electoral process. Presidential impunity turns good laws into dead letters and good institutions into complicit actors.
You have proposed the convening of what you call the National Consultation. What is this body and who will be in it?
We have proposed the convening of a representative national forum, to be known as the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections (National Consultation, for short ) to deliberate and forge a national consensus on a new system for organising and managing elections .
The National Consultation will be composed of members to be proposed by national institutional networks, covering all key sectors of society. These national networks include: political parties represented in Parliament; religious institutions; professional associations; trade unions; business sector; civil society organisations, women and youth.
NRM as a party was not involved in drawing this Basket of Demands, yet they are stakeholders in this. Doesn’t that make the demands not all inclusive?
First, we consulted very broadly on this, including with many NRM members. There are many NRM members who are patriotic and democracy-seeking. What we have put forward we believe reflects the yearnings of the vast majority of Ugandans. Second, the National Consultation we want to convene will have representation and participation by all stakeholders, including the NRM. They are stakeholders; therefore they will be at the table.
The Constitution gives the President powers to appoint Electoral Commission leadership. You are demanding for a change in the way EC bosses are appointed. In so doing are you not asking for the removal of the President’s appointing powers?
We want to have a completely new and reconstituted Electoral Commission. The current commission has no legitimacy whatsoever; it is an integral part of the NRM rigging machine. We are also proposing a new way of constituting the new Electoral Commission. Instead of the President, it is the National Consultation that will select a new elections body. This will follow public scrutiny and interviews, in order to openly probe the records, integrity and impartiality of the candidates.
The incumbent is accused of using State resources for his campaigns. How do you separate the incumbent from the candidate?
You don’t need to separate the incumbent from the President; there is nothing wrong with an incumbent being a candidate. But you need to keep the two roles distinct. For example, the president of the country, whether he is a candidate or not, is entitled to certain legitimate arrangements at all times like security, administrative, financial, etc. That is not what we are questioning. What we are concerned about is the wholesale plunder of taxpayers’ money and international assistance funds. Billions of shillings are being diverted to fund NRM campaigns and vote-buying. Unleashing the army and the police as NRM political weapons against opposition is another concern. And the transformation of administrative structures into NRM network for rigging and intimidation. These are what we are focusing on. Being a serving president who is also a candidate does not justify any of that; it doesn’t mean that you are not bound by the laws and financial regulations of the land. What we are witnessing is sheer impunity and abuse of power on a grand scale.
We have proposed restrictions on supplementary appropriations because this is a method through which the regime is able to access huge amounts of money for purposes other than what it is officially designated.
We also have proposed that in the period running up to elections, classified appropriations for State House and the presidency should be restricted and strictly monitored.
Supposing the government does not listen, what will you do?
The ball is in Museveni’s court. We have come forward with very concrete, serious, proposals to establish a new system of organising free and fair elections, for the benefit of all Ugandans. We don’t want to second-guess or presume the response of Museveni and the NRM.
You have provided a deadline of end of April. Why is this necessary?
We have provided a sunset clause, because we don’t want Museveni to play his usual games of delaying tactics. We have allowed until the end of April to see if there is serious will and commitment on the part of Museveni and the NRM to pursue the establishment of a new electoral system or not. At that point, we shall review the situation, depending on the nature of response and decide on the way forward.
You have said in 2010, under the IPC, you were let down by some members who did a U-turn. What assurance do you have that come 2016 there will not be a similar U-turn?
The U-turn of 2010 was indeed a very tragic and costly error. We, in the IPC, should have stood firm; we should have insisted on the demands we had agreed on, and pressed forward to mobilise Ugandans and the international community. I hope we have learned some critical lessons from that tragic error.
My prayer is that those who have come together shall not be moved in our demands for genuinely free and fair elections in Uganda.
Our Basket of Demands represent universal benchmarks, accepted by the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and the EU. Until now, I am very sad to note that the same international community which has affirmed these standards and benchmarks has turned a blind eye on Museveni. They have extended to him a licence of exception, always providing apology for the regime’s massive violations of universal norms. In the face of these manifest double standards, only we, Ugandans, can and must assume the responsibility to end this regime of exception.
Do you foresee a boycott of the 2016 election?
Now, let us not run ahead of ourselves. We shall cross that bridge when we reach it. At the moment we are not concerned about who may participate in or boycott 2016 elections our preoccupation is how to ensure the quality and credibility of those elections, once this is resolved, everything else will fall into place.
Would you consider the extension of the 2016 general election to have your demands considered by government?
That’s a hypothetical sketch, which simply takes away attention from our very concrete present reality, namely that we don’t have a legitimate and credible electoral system. Let us first concentrate on establishing a new system, including a new electoral commission. The new electoral commission will then tell us what practical arrangements are needed to do a good job, in terms of time, resources and other facilities, in order to deliver on free and fair elections.