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”.