At a meeting with human rights defenders this week, the European Union Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Kristian Schmidt, asked that electoral reforms be fast-tracked ahead of the 2016 elections. We are entirely in agreement with him.
To begin with, a coalition of civil society groups have crafted two Bills, the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2013 and the Electoral Commission Bill, 2013, which seek to reform the country’s electoral laws. It is also anticipated that the Opposition will table a raft of proposals to amend the electoral laws.
That we do not have a level playing field when it comes to elections is no secret. President Museveni, who has run as an incumbent in the last four elections, obviously has a comfortable head-start in terms of resources and structures ahead of his opponents.
This, coupled with the fact that an incumbent head of state seems to hold too much sway over the election overseers (Electoral Commission), seems to be suffocating the feeling that there can be a genuine political contest in Uganda today.
That is why we agree with Mr Schmidt’s proposal that the process of reforming the electoral legal regime be fast-tracked. At the heart of this must be the discussion about the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commission. The last two presidential petitions at the Supreme Court passed a harsh indictment on the Electoral Commission, its conduct and neutrality—or lack of.
It would, therefore, be important to examine the nature and composition of the Electoral Commission in this discussion.
The debate must also come clean on the place of security agencies/agents in the electoral process, the authenticity of the voters register and declaration of sources and amount of money spent by parties or candidates.
At the back of these discussions, we must be cognisant of the fact that democracy is just not the ability to conduct elections—however flawed. True democracy is about these elections being able to allow the will of the majority to prevail in a free and fair manner. It should also be a process that both victor and vanquished have faith in.