Lawmakers have blamed President Museveni for delaying the electoral reforms after it emerged that the Bills passed by Parliament in February have never been assented to by the Head of State.
At least five Bills were passed by Parliament and now await Mr Museveni’s signature. The Bills are; Presidential Elections Amendment Bill, 2019, Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, 2019, Electoral Commissions Amendment Bill, 2019, Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill, 2019, and, Local Governments Amendment Bill, 2019.
The Bills were passed ahead of the 2021 General Election with hope that the proposed amendments would fix the loopholes in the current electoral laws and ensure a free, credible and fair election.
In the event that the nominations for the different elective positions take place before the President assents to the Bills, the Electoral Commission (EC) will have to follow the existing laws.
One of the most critical activities on the roadmap that is already ongoing is the identification of candidates by the political parties which is running from June 22 to July 21.
This, however, affects the issues of qualifications of candidates seeking to contest for positions such as mayors of cities, municipalities and LC3 chairpersons of lower urban councils like city divisions, municipal divisions and town councils, who by the amendment to the Local Government’s Act are supposed to have a qualification of a Uganda Advanced Certificate in Education (UACE).
Before the amendments, these positions did not require any academic qualifications.
“All the Electoral reforms Bills that were passed here in Parliament have been submitted to the President for assent and he has not given his assent,” Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said. He was responding to a matter raised by Makindye West MP Allan Ssewanyana on Tuesday.
Mr Ssewanyana wondered how the EC would handle the case of those who intend to contest on various positions in local governments but are still stuck on the issue of academic qualifications.
When Speaker Rebecca Kadaga asked Prof Kamuntu to explain to the House why the electoral reforms delayed, he said: “This matter came up in Cabinet yesterday (Monday) and the President is taking it seriously.”
The electoral reforms were tabled by government on July 25, 2019, after a protracted battle with the Opposition and Civil Society Organisations, who wanted the recommendations of the Supreme Court in the Amama Mbabazi Vs Yoweri Museveni election petition in 2016, be put into force.
The most popular proposal carried in the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill, 2019, and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, 2019, was the government seeking to make it difficult for people to contest as Independents under Uganda’s multiparty political system.
In these two Bills, the government had proposed that for a person to contest as an Independent candidate, he or she must have ceased to be a member of a political party upon getting a discharge letter a year from nominations.
It also suggested that for those who might not have participated in primary elections, one must have never been a member of a political party at all.
This proposal was first rejected by the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs with MPs saying it would be unconstitutional and infringes on people’s rights of association.
This position was sealed by the House when the report of the committee was debated and the MPs across political divide expressed that they were both potential Independents because of undemocratic processes in internal party polls.
Declaration of funds
This proposal by the government that all presidential candidates shall have to declare to the EC their source of funding within 14 days after nomination was supported and passed by the House.
While passing the Bills, Parliament maintained that the status quo on polling time being between 7am and 4pm, campaign rally time as between 7am and 6pm, the distribution of election materials by EC within 48 hours before polling time as opposed to the proposal to have that done “any time before polling time’’ and the use of cameras and phones at a polling station.
The House also rejected the proposal for the EC to gazette polling stations inside restricted areas such as army barracks but instead maintained the status quo to have such a polling station gazetted outside a restricted area. On transmitting the presidential election results from district to the national tally centre, MPs passed the proposal with an amendment that the electronic process shall have the Returning Officer copy in the presidential candidates, the participating political parties and official agents of candidates.
New administration units
In the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill and the Local Governments Amendment Bill, Parliament supported the government proposal that elections in all new districts and municipalities which are created after a general election shall wait for the next general elections to have their leaders elected. It was also passed that such administrative units shall take effect six months before the general elections.
Qualifications for mayors
Much as it was not originally in the proposed amendments to the Local Governments Act, the House resolved that political heads of all urban councils shall be required to have a minimum of UACE which is a S6 certificate or its equivalent.
The justification was that these urban councils are self-accounting hence the need for educated leaders that are charged with political supervision of highly qualified technical staff.
With courts receiving numerous electoral petitions from losers contesting the results of parliamentary elections and fingers pointings at the conduct of the EC officials in managing the exercise, the reforms have been passed without punitive measure.
MPs approved the recommendation of the committee that a returning officer, who shall be responsible for elections in an area where results are cancelled by court on grounds of electoral malpractices, shall be removed from office.
Code of conduct
With only two clauses, the main amendment in the Political Parties and Organisations Act was the introduction of a Code of Conduct for parties.
The conduct which focuses much on how political parties and their supporters will have their behaviour regulated during campaigns and on polling day. The conduct is enforced by the National Consultative Forum and shall be observed by all political parties.
The EC said they will continue with the implementation of the roadmap within the provisions of the prevailing laws.
Elections expert, Mr Crispin Kaheru, said the amendment that deals with the use of technology during elections needed to be into force far before the road map because it also affects the procurement process that is ongoing.
He said under good practices, it is incumbent on the government to complete the revision of the legal framework for elections six months to the election.