We need to be honest about electoral reforms

Friday April 19 2019

 

By Michael Aboneka

Uganda will go to polls again in 2021, which is barely two years away. The electioneering year will start next year (2020) as the Electoral Commission and some political parties have already launched their roadmaps towards the 2021 elections. I have observed and participated in Uganda’s elections for some time, but one thing remains common - the rush to put things in order towards election time.
We always want to do things last minute, including forming new constituencies that were not earlier planned for days towards elections so that some political rewards can be made. For all the elections we have held, a number of observers have released observations and made recommendations, packed their bags and left us promising to come back again to do the same thing in a another election.

There have been processes for development of reforms that go deep to the electoral democracy and Uganda. It is unfortunate that these proposals are deliberately ignored for reasons unknown to us.

Prior to 2016 elections, there were proposed reforms from various actors, the profound one being the Citizens’ Compact on free and fair elections, which was birthed out of the national citizen consultations on free and fair elections-the first of its kind. The Citizens’ Compact contains a number of proposals but all these have been shelved.

After the elections, the National Consultative Forum started the process of harmonising all the proposals for consideration before the 2021 elections. A number of proposals were made by the various political parties and up to now, no one knows where this process ended.

There have been several processes and events, but with similar outcomes, shelving of ideas and waiting for the next election.

In the Election Petition No.1 of 2016, the Supreme Court observed the need for electoral reforms and made a number of recommendations such as revising the number of days from 30 to 60 in which to file an election petition, amendment of rules to use oral evidence in such petitions, use of technology in voting, an electoral law to provide for sanctions against any State organ or officer who violates the constitutional duty to allocate to candidates equal time and space on government-owned media, amendment of the Presidential Elections Act to bar giving of donations during election time, prohibition of public servants in campaigns, all electoral reforms must be worked on within two years of the tenure of the Parliament among others.

The Attorney General was ordered to furnish Court with updates on the progress made towards addressing the above within two years. Game Changers (an Activist Group) in their petition reminded the Attorney General of the fast approaching deadline (August 2018), but up to now, there has not been any communication on the same by the Attorney General. If this is the case, would the Attorney General be in contempt of Court? In addition, Parliament was pre-occupied with the age limit and extension of their own tenure while ignoring the many shelved electoral reforms.

A Constitutional Review Commission was put in place to review the Constitution all in a bid to promote democracy in the country. The Commission was received with mixed feelings as its composition was heavily contested because of the failure to represent all categories of people, especially the youth. The Commission since its appointment in November 2018, has not started work because it requires about Shs13b to kick-start the work. Even if this is secured, it will still have to take nearly two years for it to do a thorough review involving wide public consultation and another one year to have the proposals debated and subsequently passed.

With reference to the 2021 elections roadmap, presidential and parliamentary candidates will be nominated in August 2020 next year. If we were a serious country that respects international and regional charters on elections and democracy such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) and the people of Uganda, we should have by now concluded the preliminaries for electoral reforms.

Further, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, has on various occasions decried the lack of funds to support the process of reviewing electoral reforms. This song has been on for nearly three years old and we are still looking on pretending to be a democracy.

Further, there have been calls to appoint more judges and the response has been that there is no money. What this means that we may have a situation where election petitions are delayed thereby denying citizens justice simply because of shortage of human resource. It is now clear that the reforms have not been given priority yet voters want to participate in the 2021 elections.

Mr Aboneka is a partner at
Thomas & Michael Advocates.
abonekajunior@gmail.com

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