Opposition political parties on Friday called on the international community to pile pressure on President Museveni and compel him to accept proposed electoral reforms if meaningful general elections are to be held next year.
The acting Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Christopher Kibanzanga, while welcoming latest demands by three of Uganda’s key development partners for creation of a credible and verifiable national voters’ register, said the curtain is now drawing on “political oppressors and electoral thieves.”
“The donors have the key; they pushed President Museveni to accept multipartyism [in 2005] and when they called him over the Anti-homosexuality Bill, the President immediately changed his position,” MP Kibanzanga (FDC; Busongora South), said on Friday.
Strong condemnation from world leaders, among them US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, late last year forced Mr Museveni, a known critic of gays, to tamp down public discussion on the David Bahati-proposed legislation on grounds that it’s a sensitive foreign policy matter.
MP Kibanzanga added: “If the donors tell him to accept the electoral reforms we are pushing for as the Opposition, there is no doubt Mr Museveni will accept them within days.”
The government spokeswoman Ms Kabakumba Masiko, however, said it was irregular for ambassadors of the US, Britain and the Netherlands, to bypass the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and transact business directly with domestic institutions.
“They should use the right channel and work with us (government) to concretise democratic gains in the country and the achievements so far made by the EC,” she said, adding: “No one is opposed to a verifiable voters’ register; the EC is already addressing those concerns and the challenges notwithstanding, they have done a good job and need to be supported.”
The contest of opinion on the image and working of the electoral body has placed political actors – and the country’s future – at crossroads in the run-up to the 2011 polls.
Four of Uganda’s major political parties, better known by the adopted communal identity - Inter-Party Cooperation, have proposed a raft of electoral and legislative reforms for a clean 2011 ballot; top of which being the disbandment of the Eng. Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission team that the Supreme Court confirmed messed up the 2006 elections.
The parties want representation on a re-constituted EC; constitutional presidential term limits scrapped five years ago reinstated and barring of the military from overseeing the voting process as in previous cases. The military and other security forces have been accused of intimidating civilians into supporting the incumbent in previous election campaigns.
The government put forward its own set of proposed electoral reforms but only after, and largely ignoring, suggestions of the IPC. Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee is in advanced stages of scrutinising the five bills perceived to be favouring the ruling NRM party.
Earlier, Mr Kibanzanga said it has been “disappointing” for donors to continue pumping money here and not calling the government in Kampala to order on things such as corruption, election theft and political repression.
That position appeared headed for a change after Daily Monitor broke the story of three top diplomats warning that organisational lapses by EC could easily discredit the 2011 ballot.
UK High Commissioner Martin Shearman, US ambassador Jerry Lanier and his Dutch counterpart Joroen Verhaul, on March 3, wrote to Eng. Kiggundu, the EC chairman, telling him the commission’s questionable credibility is eroding public confidence in the “democratic process.”
“Restoring the confidence of the electorate, political parties and civil society in the Electoral Commission will be key to Uganda holding free, fair and peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011,” the diplomats said in the jointly signed letter.
The EC has told this newspaper that it is preparing a substantive response to the letter expected in the coming days. The three countries give Uganda more than Shs460 billion in development assistance each year.