Thursday February 13 2014

What next after proposed electoral reforms?

Some of the opposition leaders at the launch of a raft of electoral reforms

Some of the opposition leaders at the launch of a raft of electoral reforms that were presented to the public in Kampala early this week. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA. 

By SOLOMON ARINAITWE

Kampala- With opposition parties releasing a list of electoral reform proposals that they think could assist in ensuring a free and fair poll in 2016, the ball is back in the court of the government and the Electoral Commission as the count - down to the election year gathers momentum.

Opposition parties presented their proposals to the public a day after the ruling NRM MPs – presently holed up at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi - announced they were endorsing President Museveni as the party candidate to run for a fifth elective term.

The endorsement has come with talk that it was deliberately designed to lock out internal competition against the President from rivals, reportedly amongst whom Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi features.

At Makerere University on Monday, Opposition leaders set a deadline of April for the government to embrace the reforms before they unveil their next move.
The race to 2016 is slowly shaping as NRM’s Kyankwanzi declaration comes hot on the heels of a pronouncement by retired Maj. Gen. Benon Biraro’s that he would challenge his former boss for the country’s top job.
Opposition parties have, like in 2011, repeated a demand that the Badru Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission be overhauled, insisting it forms the nexus that fixes presidential results for Mr Museveni.

The EC has always bore the brunt of criticism about the conduct of elections with the Supreme Court, in damning indictments, ruling that the 2001 and 2006 presidential polls were held in violation of electoral laws.

Stopping at a call
The demand about the EC has previously stopped at a call for disbandment of the current order, falling short of providing a clear procedure of how a substitute body would be constituted. This incompleteness had given the EC and government an excuse to dismiss them.

But the latest proposals spell out a specific method of appointment, review and sacking of members of an independent EC.

It calls for the establishment of a forum dubbed the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections to set the ground for an agreeable electoral referee agency.

They propose that all political parties be given legal mandate to have a say in the appointment of key officials.

“Officers and secretariat at all levels must go through an open and widely advertised recruitment process. Commissioners will serve for a guaranteed one, non-renewable, seven-year term [and] a commissioner may be removed from office only in exceptional circumstances, “reads in part the proposal on the composition of the Electoral Commission.

Currently, commissioners serve two seven-year terms, with the present team in its final leg. Under the current constitutional arrangement, Mr Museveni enjoys near-monopoly in appointing commissioners, a process that comes with inevitable risks of denting the impartiality of the Commission.

Mr Sam Rwakoojo, the EC secretary, says the oppositions should put all their energies in putting forward constitutional amendments, which would then pave the way for the reforms that are being touted by parties.

“At one time, we had a known opposition member of the commission and it was not any better,” Mr Rwakoojo responds to proposals by the opposition for an inclusive electoral body.

Constitutional amendments would lead to provisions allowing diaspora-based Ugandans to vote, another key opposition demand.

EC spokesman Jotham Taremwa, says allowing more parties to have a say in the appointment of officials would turn the body into a “caucus with members serving two masters”.

One proposal that the EC seems to be responsive to, is a proposal to involve political parties in the process of printing electoral materials.

“[In 2011], we were with their (opposition) representatives in London, China and South Africa in places where we printed and when the materials arrived at [Entebbe] Airport up to when we transported to the stores,” Mr Rwakoojo says, expressing willingness to bring on board the opposition.

Another contentious point that the opposition seeks to tackle is the question of integrity of the tallying process.

During the 2006 polls, the KFM radio signals were jammed as the radio relayed a live broadcast of provisional results.

This apparent sabotage was repeated in 2011 when attempts by the Interparty Cooperation (IPC) to announce their own results were frustrated by the government.

Opposition politicians, wary that result figures may change between the polling centre and the tally centre, also want results declared at the constituency, not the district - as is the case now - with the media allowed to report election results instantly.

The EC is uncomfortable with the media relaying results, without categorically indicating that they are provisional and not final.

“Results have to be added and tallied and it cannot be done at the constituency. Every party worth its salt should have a representative at the polling station,” Mr Rwakoojo says.

Asked why efforts by the media to transmit provisional results have always been frustrated, Mr Rwakoojo responded thus: “I do not know who jammed it (the radio) but the Monitor itself was not transparent.”

Alternative voices

West Budama North MP Fox Odoi, who is also a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, says the proposal to establish a special tribunal to handle presidential election disputes similar to Dr Kizza Besigye’s contesting of the results in the past three eelctions, is unnecessary.
“You cannot have an election without mistakes.

It cannot be 100 per cent foolproof. The judgment that a presidential office cannot be declared vacant because the mistakes were not substantial is both qualitative and quantitative. The extent [of the malpractices] must be backed by evidence,” Mr Odoi says.

Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago, who as shadow attorney presented the opposition reforms in 2011 that were rejected, says their next action is ensuring that the elections do not proceed.

“It will not be business as usual. If these reforms are not accepted, we are prepared to take drastic measures to ensure Mr Museveni does not go ahead with electoral fraud,” Mr Lukwago said on Tuesday.

Highlights of the 2011 reform proposals

Army out of politics. Removal of the army from partisan politics is a key element that features in a raft of proposals that the opposition want to be acted on. They [parties] accuse the government of using the army to intimidate voters as well as open rigging of elections results.

Overhaul of the EC. The opposition says that the current composition of the Electoral Commission forms the nexus that has in the previous elections twisted results to favour President Museveni.

New Voters’ register. Opposition parties want the Electoral Commission to come up with a new, clean and verifiable voters’ register, which should include eligible Ugandans in the diaspora.

Freedom to organise and assemble. There cannot be democratic elections without freedoms of expression, association, movement and access to electorates by all stakeholders before and after elections.

Thus opposition parties ask that the Public Order Management Act be repealed.

REFORMS KICK OFF
The Uganda Law Reform Commission has embarked on a process to amend electoral laws to have an acceptable democratic electoral process in the country.
The commission’s secretary, Mr Lucas Omara Abong, announced the commencement of the process that will entail gathering of views and recommendations from stakeholders to build “laws that would ensure transparent elections that comply with the principles of a democratic society.”

“It is time for us as a nation to ensure that electoral laws meet the demands of the country. The purpose of this review is therefore to assess how Uganda’s elections can be elevated to a process as opposed to an event,” said Mr Abong.

Addressing journalists in Kampala, Mr Abong said the exercise, which ends in June and targets 8,205 respondents from 45 districts countrywide would among others gather views on the independence of the electoral commission, penalties, restrictions on contributions to political parties and candidates, equal treatment on state owned media and that involving two voters appearing under the same name.

Other issues include the presence of security personnel at polling stations, voter education, special interest groups in parliament, term limits for elective offices, and age requirements for elective offices.
Among others are separation of powers and appointment of the executive in a multiparty parliament.

He said the outcome would be sent to stakeholders including government, Parliament, Electoral Commission, political parties, religious leaders, civil society and individuals.

sarinaitwe@nationmedia.com

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