The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the main six joint opposition parties have agreed on 43 out of the 48 proposed electoral reforms for free and fair elections in 2016.
The NRM and the opposition reached the consensus during a meeting under the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) which comprises the six political parties which have representation in Parliament
The meeting comprised representatives from the ruling NRM (Daudi Migereko) and the opposition parties Forum for Democratic Change (Augustine Ruzindana), Justice Forum (Asuman Basalirwa), Democratic Party (Florence Namayanja), Uganda People’s Congress (Olara Otuunu) and the Conservative Party (Ken Lukyamuzi).
They agreed on 43 out of the 48 electoral reforms presented for discussion. They agreed to have the Judicial Service Commission establish a select committee to identify suitable candidates for appointment as members of the Electoral Commission (EC) who will be endorsed by the President.
The NRM and the opposition also agreed that the number of EC members be increased from seven to nine and their term be restricted to seven years without renewal.
However, they failed to agree on five key reforms which include removal of representatives of special interest groups from parliament, such as the army, the youth and workers; restoration of the two five-year presidential term limits. These were deferred pending further and wider consultations. The two above were among the key electoral reforms proposed during a three-day national conference of opinion, political and civil society leaders in November last year. NRM officially skipped the conference.
“Some of the proposals will need a party position. If changes are made to the proposals, it will not imply IPOD will have done nothing,” says the minister for Lands and Urban Development, Daudi Migereko who represented the NRM at the interparty talks.
UPC president Olara Otunnu who spoke on behalf of the joint opposition, called for more commitment, especially from the NRM, to the agreed electoral reforms.
“We are open to a process of genuine dialogue that can lead to the opening of the electoral field in our country. But we are not open to dialogue for the sake of a photo opportunity,” Otunnu warned.
He added that the agreed electoral proposals cannot be taken piecemeal, saying the opposition will not accept a situation where the NRM makes a unilateral decision on which reforms to agree with or reject.
In February 2014, while opening an IPOD meeting in Mukono, then prime minister Amama Mbabazi warned that the proposed electoral reforms ahead of the 2016 elections would be achieved at a cost.
“Whereas we may wish to push for a myriad of ideas, especially with backing from our international partners, who sometimes forget that Rome was not built in a day, this may simply be impractical,” Mr Mbabazi said at that time.
Mr Mbabazi was sacked as prime minister in September last year.
In 2010, a similar move was carried out under the same framework but did not succeed when NRM, which enjoys a majority in parliament, rejected the reforms when they were submitted to the House.
However, Mr Migereko insisted that the majority of the electoral proposals were passed then.
“80 to 90 percent of the proposals generated by IPOD towards the 2011 elections were adopted, so this exercise should not be viewed in futility because it adds a lot of value,” he said after the IPOD meeting on Thursday.
There have been calls for electoral reforms across the political divide and the civil society.
Proposed reforms agreed upon
1. Judicial Service Commission to appoint a selection committee which will identify suitable candidates as members of the Electoral commission to be endorsed by the President.
2. The number of members of the EC be increased from seven to nine and their term restricted to seven years, none renewable in order to minimise the possibility of compromise in anticipation of reappointment.
3. Make the appointment process of the members of the EC more transparent and inclusive by having the selection committee invite the registered political parties, professional bodies, civil society and the general public to nominate persons for appointment to the commission.
4. Strengthen the EC autonomy by removing the requirement to consult the Finance minister in order to pay persons it engages for the elections and to widen its mandate to take independent initiative in matters relating to elections.
5. Make the constituency the basic electoral unit for efficiency in the management of elections.
6. Require the EC to formulate voter education programmes jointly with the political parties and implement them continuously at least one year to elections
7. Public Officers who wish to stand for elective positions at local government to take leave and not resign.
8. Increase nomination days for Presidential elections from two to three.
9. EC to consult the political parties before extending the time within which to perform certain acts
10. Allowances of candidates’ agent to be determined by the candidate instead of the EC
11. Widening the time table to facilitate the timely provision of electoral materials to the returning officers.
12. Prohibiting an illiterate/disabled voter from requesting another person present at the polling station to assist in voting.
13. Political parties to be represented on the tribunal constituted by the chief magistrate to determine the objections arising from the display of the voters’ rolls.
14. Increase the time within which an election petition may be filed and empowering a court convicting a candidate of voter bribery to bar the candidate from standing for elective public office for a period of five years
15. Reduce the time for an election petition to be disposed of and empowering courts to suspend any matters pending in order to hear and determine these cases.
1.Proportional representation as an electoral system for Uganda
2. Removing preferential parliamentary seats for the army, youth and workers
3.Reinstating presidential term limits
4. Removing direct election of the President by substituting for direct elections through the parliamentary representatives.