What you need to know about new electoral reforms

Process. A voter marks his ballot at a polling station in Katwe, Kampala during the mayoral and division councillors elections in 2016. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

Qualification. The House on Wednesday resolved that political heads of all urban councils shall be required to have a minimum of Uganda Advanced Certificate in Education.

The five Bills that government proposed more than seven months ago as part of the reforms to the electoral law, were this week passed by Parliament with a number of changes ahead of the 2021 General Election. But the President is yet to assent to them.
The electoral reforms which were passed a month to nomination of special interest groups which starts on April 6 are the 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 long-awaited electoral reforms are part of the recommendations of the Supreme Court that decided the presidential election petition in the Amama Mbabazi Vs Yoweri Museveni, Electoral Commission and Attorney General in 2016. Different observer missions had also hinted on a need for reforms after the 2016 general election.

New reforms
Despite being accused of not brining comprehensive amendments to cater for all the questions that have persisted about the quality of elections, the government in the reforms tabled on July 25 last year had hoped to address some key issues. These reforms, however, faced criticism for stringent provisions for persons intending to contest as Independent candidates.

The 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, 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.
“The Constitution does not impose any specific limitations on a person intending to stand in a presidential election other than those that apply generally to all persons in Uganda, irrespective of their political affiliation. The proposal to require an Independent candidate to only be eligible to stand in a presidential election 12 months after ceasing being a member of a political party or organisation before nomination day is foreign to the Constitution as eligibility criteria,” the report reads in part.
“The above provisions will have the effect of conscripting a person to remain a member of a political party against his or her wishes contrary to the Constitutional guarantee of the person’s right to association,” it adds.

Declaration of funds
The government proposals 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.

Polling day
The Presidential Elections Amendment Bill, the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, the EC Amendment Bill and the Local Government Amendment Bill carried similar proposals in regard to the distribution of election materials; elections in restricted places; and, management of polling stations.
While passing the Bills, Parliament maintained 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 to be 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
As captured 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.
Government has been creating new districts, municipalities, town councils and sub-counties which demand for the election of leaders as soon as they get operationalised.
However, the districts that became operation on July 1, 2019 have not elected their leaders after the EC failed to secure funds from the Ministry of Finance.

Qualifications for mayors,
Much as it was not originally in the proposed amendments to the Local Governments Act, the House on Wednesday resolved that political heads of all urban councils shall be required to have a minimum of Uganda Advanced Certificate in Education (UACE) which is Senior Six certificate or its equivalent.
The justification was that these urban councils; cities, city divisions, municipalities, municipal divisions and town councils are self-accounting hence the need for educated leaders that are charged with political supervision of highly qualified technical staff.

No electoral reform committee
Government had proposed in the EC Amendment Bill to introduce an electoral reforms committee to comprise four members of EC; three officials from Attorney General Chambers; Secretary of Uganda Law Reform Commission; a representative of political parties; representative of Civil Society; Permanent Secretaries of Ministry of Local Government; and, Ministry of Gender.
The electoral reforms committee, government had proposed, would be responsible among others for; studying electoral and other laws relating to matters and processes of elections; synthesising various reforms proposed by political parties, election observers and monitors, civil society and other stakeholders or arising from court decisions; and, consulting the relevant stakeholders on the proposed electoral reforms.
After nearly two hours of debating the proposal which became unpopular with members, the clause was deleted from the Bill with the Speaker ruling; “we need to understand the mandate, composition and housing of this committee.”

Returning officers
With courts receiving numerous electoral petitions from losers contesting the results of parliamentary elections and fingers pointed 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 code of conduct for the political parties. The code of conduct which focuses much on how political parties and their supporters will have their behaviour regulated during campaigns and on polling day.
The code of conduct which shall be enforced by the National Consultative Forum will be observed by all political parties.

Key players
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. After the passing of all the Bills on Thursday, Speaker Kadaga commended the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee for doing a ‘’great job” in processing the Bills, which she said were a “baptism of fire” for Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Prof Ephraim Kamuntu and new deputy Attorney General Jackson Kafuuzi.

Election expert, Mr Crispin Kaheru, said: “There are progressive elements in the reforms. The main call is for government to commit to implement the electoral reforms immediately in order to positively influence the 2021 elections.”