Making a case for timely constitutional, electoral reforms

Author: Kenneth Lukwago. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • It’s almost three years to the next election and one wonders if this is not the right time to begin handling the urgent reforms in a bipartisan manner.

All elections held in Uganda have culminated into issues that require attention through constitutional and electoral reforms. Some of the issues have been recommended by courts of law especially the supreme court in determining presidential election petitions and the constitutional court or court of appeal while handling parliamentary election petitions.

Other recommendations have emerged from the numerous election observation reports and stakeholder engagements conducted by civil society in every other circle of elections.

One of the biggest excuses often given for not comprehensively handling reforms has been lack of time for parliament and the argument by the executive that the proposals are always outside the budgeting period which would make their implementation difficult. 

Of course, the other major impediment is the selective approach by the executive choosing to table only bills that favor the incumbent.

Towards the 2011 general elections, a citizen led effort championed by the civil society under the leadership of the National NGO Forum culminated into the citizens compact on electoral reforms which were presented to parliament and handed over to the legal and parliamentary affairs committee led then by Stephen Tashobya who now is a commissioner at the electoral commission.  

The compact was lauded as critical in ensuring credible elections but alas! In its report to parliament the committee said that it had no time to consider and include the recommendations! Mr Tashobya reported that it had been agreed that before the next election in 2016, the recommendations would be given utmost priority.

This wasn’t to be the case because once again proposals to amend the constitution and electoral laws focused on other peculiar issues and were presented at a time MPs had no time or were very busy trying to be re-elected. 

After the 2016 presidential elections, the supreme court made some key recommendations in the ruling following a petition by candidate John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. This  included coming up with a law to guide use of technology in elections(Focusing mainly on biometric machines and election result transmission systems), addressing the issue of donations mainly by the incumbent during the campaign period disguised as delivery of services( taking into account the delivery of the presidential pledge on hand hoes to rural communities during the campaign period), the need for the public broadcaster to offer equal time to all presidential candidates and extending the period within which a presidential petition can be filed and determined by the supreme court.

The first two recommendations of the supreme court were never attended to leading to the 2021 general elections and instead we saw more divisive proposals such as lifting the presidential age limit being tabled.

Timely and comprehensive Constitutional and electoral reforms are critical in ensuring credible, free and fair elections. It should be the interest of all stakeholders including the Judiciary who must not entertain electoral petitions based on grounds they have already made recommendations on. The Judiciary should urge the government to implement its recommendations.

If the Executive is not tabling the required bills, the House should be proactive and ask questions and also move motions to present private member bills. Business from the opposition who have already suggested some reforms in their legislative agenda should also be accepted. The silence of the executive on this matter should also be questioned.  As people in charge, it should be their utmost duty to ensure peaceful and meaningful elections.

It’s almost three years to the next election and one wonders if this is not the right time to begin handling the urgent reforms in a bipartisan manner.  

What are you waiting for? Alarm bells?

Kenneth Lukwago is a journalist and media consultant.