Why we should conclude debate on electoral reforms

Monday February 26 2018

Crispin Kaheru, CCEDU coordinator. FILE PHOTO

Crispin Kaheru, CCEDU coordinator. FILE PHOTO 

By Crispin Kaheru

Your Excellency,
We write this letter with a profound appreciation that this year government plans to conduct elections in the six newly created districts of Nabilatuk, Bugweri, Kwani, Kapelebyong, Kasanda, and Kikuube. Elections will also be conducted to fill vacancies in about 264 of approximately 1,403 sub-counties in Uganda.
Other elections envisaged include: Parliamentary and Local Government by-elections, as well as possible Local Council I and II elections alongside the possibility of a national referendum.

In order to deliver a cost-effective and democratic electoral process that will enlist the confidence of the wananchi to participate unimpeded in the different electoral processes, electoral reforms are a must.
Your Excellency, we want to believe that it is because you clearly understand the importance of progressive political reforms that you rightly campaigned on the platform of instituting a constitutional review process.
Under Chapter II of your 2016 to 2021 manifesto, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) commits to uphold the principle of democracy where citizens directly participate in regular, free and fair elections.

Trustee and principal guarantor
Correspondingly, NRM has situated itself as the trustee and principal guarantor of vision 2040 in which the need for democracy is recognised as the anchor to transform Uganda. Vision 2040 states that, government will inter alia, enhance the legal and regulatory framework covering the electoral process.
In line with these commitments, the second National Development Plan (NDP II) recognises that without free and fair political and electoral processes, key development objectives cannot be achieved.
To this end, the NDP II proposes to “enact laws to strengthen credibility of electoral processes in Uganda and citizen participation in the electoral process”.

Your Excellency, we recognise that following the enactment of the 1995 Constitution, Uganda has held regular elections during the set constitutional time frames – every five years. Yet, since 2001, general elections in Uganda have ended in controversy.
The 2001, 2006 and 2016 presidential elections culminated in court disputes while in 2011, elections ended in violent public demonstrations. Despite your policy direction, concerns about your government’s commitment towards a transparent and accountable electoral framework persist.

Since 2001, election observers, political organisations, civil society organisations and private individuals have proposed electoral and constitutional reforms that would guarantee credible, free and fairer elections in Uganda.
Despite their significance, many of the substantive and popular electoral reforms have not made it to the legislative agenda, close to two decades later, with significant implications for our growth as a nation.
Your Excellency, your government’s reluctance to consider popular progressive electoral reforms, in order to address electoral deficits that have afflicted previous elections, has dented the credibility of electoral processes.

These persisting challenges undermine commitments in the NRM manifesto, Vision 2040 and the NDP II and continue to paint elections as mere rituals that are incapable of translating the will of the citizenry into genuine democratic choice.
It is not surprising that according to a recent survey conducted by a renowned research firm, Afrobarometer, only 22 per cent of Ugandans believe that their country is either a full democracy or a democracy with minor problems.

Need to address political reforms
Your Excellency, the work of CCEDU has since 2009 affirmed the crucial need to address legal and political reforms. Through the free and fair elections 2013/14 public consultations conducted countrywide, more than 1.2 million Ugandans directly endorsed the Citizens’ Compact and the Citizens’ Electoral Reform Agenda (CERA).

In addition, a research conducted by Afrobarometer in 2015, indicated that 89 per cent of Ugandans wanted electoral reforms before the 2016 elections.
Your Excellency, after the 2016 general elections, the Judiciary received approximately 118 parliamentary election petitions, accounting for about 30 per cent of the composition of the 10th Parliament.
Contestations were as a result of widespread perceptions that elections are marred with irregularities and electoral malpractices, therefore, falling short of constitutional and internationally accepted standards of free, fair and credible elections.

Violence, bribery and vote-rigging have been a constant feature of Uganda’s elections at different scales across the country. It is important to recognise that the recent 2016 electoral process was marred by avoidable legislative, administrative and logistical failures, the impact of lack of trust in the independence and impartiality of the EC, questions about the impartiality of security agencies and the use of money in electioneering.
The Supreme Court ruling on the presidential election petition No.1 of 2016 (Amama Mbabazi v Museveni & Ors) acknowledged electoral reforms as a prerequisite for free and fair elections in Uganda.
Your Excellency, in the recent ruling, the Supreme Court recommended that the time for filing and determination of a presidential election petition be increased from 30 to at least 60 days; the use of oral evidence in addition to affidavit evidence be accepted in Court; time for holding a fresh election where the previous elections has been nullified be increased from the currently prescribed 20 days; the use of technology in elections be backed by law; sanctions against any State organ or officer who violates provisions of the law with regard to access to State-owned media be provided; election related law reform be undertaken within two years of the establishment of the new Parliament; laws be enacted to prohibit the giving of donations (during campaign periods) by all candidates including a President, who is also a candidate; laws prohibiting public servants from getting involved in political campaigns be made more explicit; laws be amended to make it permissible for the Attorney General to be made Respondent in a presidential election petition where necessary; and that the Attorney General be the authority to follow-up with the Supreme Court’s recommendations.

Your Excellency, the recent recommendations of the Supreme Court came against the backdrop of numerous calls for substantive electoral reforms by both state and non-state actors including: Cabinet (2005, 2009 and 2015), 7th, 8th and 9th Parliaments, Electoral Commission (EC), Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC), National Consultative Forum (NCF), Uganda Law Society (ULS), Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD), Inter Party Cooperation (IPC), Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) among others.

Prominent recommendations
Some of the prominent recommendations include: calls to review the appointment procedure of the EC to make it competitive and participatory; proposals on implementing a sustainable mechanism for continuous civic and voter education; proposals on mainstreaming the role of security in electoral processes; call to manage the illicit use of money and government resources especially during electoral seasons; proposals to enact and implement a code of conduct for political parties; proposals to review the mode of election of special interest groups in Parliament and other local government councils.
Others include calls to institute a comprehensive framework to manage the political transfer of power from an outgoing democratically elected president to an incoming president; provisions to counter gerrymandering; calls to trim the size of Cabinet and Parliament, among others.
These reforms mainly target seven pieces of legislation: the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995; the Presidential Elections Act 2005; the Parliamentary Elections Act 2001; the Electoral Commission Act 2005; the Local Governments Act 1997; the National Youth Council Act 1993; and the Public Order Management Act 2013.

Your Excellency, we acknowledge the reforms on voter registration, security of tenure of the EC as well as other administrative and technological changes that have positively, albeit minimally, had impact on improving the integrity and outcome of elections.
However, there remains a lot to be done in order to improve the credibility of the electoral process. The key to achieving the latter is a sound legal and institutional framework.
Low voter turn-out, high cost of elections, unprecedented numbers of spoilt ballot papers in elections, voter apathy, incidents of electoral violence, voter disenfranchisement, vote rigging, vote buying and misuse of money during campaigns; all point to the urgent need of a solid legal, institutional and administrative framework for election management in Uganda.
The 2016 general election cost more than Shs400 billion; however, had Uganda for instance aptly reformed its electoral process and deployed necessary technology, the cost would have essentially been lowered by more than 60 per cent.

Technology is an example of a tool which, when implemented properly, will broaden franchise, modernise elections, but most importantly cut the alarming election costs and increase transparency of the electoral process for the wananchi.
Needless to mention, the continuous reform and adaptation of the legal framework governing electoral management informed by experiences, reviews and assessments is necessary in every democratic society.
Your Excellency, we hold the view that electoral reforms should be undertaken within the context of a constitutional review process which facilitates a national conversation on our role as citizens, towards maintaining peace and ensuring the development of our country.
A constitutional review process will allow for the re-examination and reform of other sectors such as security, public service, and Judiciary that seem to have historically gratuitous influence over the conduct and verdict of elections in Uganda.

Civic education
Your Excellency, beyond the legislative and administrative tiers of reform, Uganda ought to invest robustly and strategically in civic education as a support measure to sustainable good electoral practices.
Civic education must integrate cognitive moral information which speaks to the prominence of the value of democracy, justice, peace alongside social values such as integrity, trust, honesty, patriotism and confidence which have over the years had a far-reaching impact on the nature of elections in Uganda.
It must also be informed by our traditional values linked to social cohesion, productivity as well as law and order.

Your Excellency, it is therefore our desire and that of many Ugandans, that you urgently:
Establish an independent Constitution review process whose findings and recommendations will be implemented before any subsequent national electoral exercise; and
Launch a national dialogue process that will genuinely provide Ugandans an opportunity to adaptively address root causes of conflict and issues caused by failures of the previous Constitutions to provide a basis for an inclusive social contract, which aims at satisfying the needs of the citizens.
Your Excellency, we look forward to your timely and positive response and action on the issues that we have brought to your attention.

- the writer is coordinator, CCEDU