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The East African : Dec 1st 2014
18 The EastAfrican NEWS NOVEMBER 29 - DECEMBER 5, 2014 UGANDA ELECTIONS NRM supporters celebrate after their party flag bearer Yoweri Museveni was announced winner of the 2011 elections. Picture: File Forum in fresh push for electoral reforms O≥ganise≥s said the≥e is a need fo≥ negotiations with the ≥uling NRM and mo≥e engagement with citizens By GAAKI KIGAMBO Special Correspondent S takeholders have renewed their push for comprehen- sive legal reforms necessary to build a credible electoral system in Uganda. But for this to happen, there will be a need for further negotiations with the ruling NRM party, which controls parliament, and more engagement with citizens and leaders at lower levels, said organisers of a consultative forum on free and fair elections that took place in Kampala last week. “The idea is to engage the [ruling party’s] MPs logically and to impress upon them the need to carry the voices of their people and not just those of their party leader,” said Wafula Oguttu, the leader of the opposition in parliament. According to analysts, the conspicuous absence of the government at the three-day meeting exposed its disinclination to consider electoral reforms. Apparently, the govern- ment decided to stay away despite earlier indications that it would participate in the forum, because doing so would have legitimised a nationwide campaign aimed at removing it from power, sources familiar with the thinking within the ruling NRM and government said. A former official in one of the foreign organisations that is a major funder of political activities in Uganda said that a possible way forward would be bipartisan negotiations to generate a consensus within parliament on reforms. “One can confidently say it will probably be impossible to have any meaningful reform in Uganda without the co-operation of the NRM and Museveni,” he said. The most pressing demand out of the Kampala forum that drew up to 1,300 participants from across the country is the establishment of a new, independent and impartial Electoral Commission. This demand is no differ- ent from what a similar set of campaigners are making in Tanzania, which is currently in the process of writing a new constitution. In both countries, an over- haul of the election management body has been seen as the first step to ensuring that electoral processes and their outcomes are credible in the eyes of all contestants. Reform campaigners claim that under the present configurations, the systems appear to favour the ruling parties, a charge the Ugandan election body disputes. “Improvements are always welcome; there are also reforms we have suggested. But this doesn’t mean that if they don’t happen we won’t have credible elections. The Electoral Commission has organised elections in which the NRM has lost. So what are they talking about?” said Jotham Taremwa, the spokesperson of the Electoral Commission of Uganda. According to the campaign- ers, the president should be restrained from constituting the commission , and that staffing must be open and participatory. It should be overseen by the Judicial Service Commission. Parliament should then vet successful applicants and upon approval submit them to the president for appointment. However, even if the gov- ernment were to agree to these demands, there is no time to implement them between now and when nominations for presidential and parliamentary aspirants start in September next year. This time constraint has given rise to debate about the possibility of extending the 2016 polls, an idea that first emerged in September last year and one that reformists appear divided over. According to Godber Tu- mushabe, a public policy analyst and a director at the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, time should not be used as an excuse by the government to shelve the establishment of a robust, trusted electoral system. “For many of us, the 2016 election calendar is only relevant to the extent that we have the necessary conditions for free and fair elections. There is no point in a country holding an election and then aggrieved losers taking off to the bush to fight like some people did in 1980 or others engaging in protests like the Walk-to-Work after the 2011 elections,” said Mr Tumushabe. He added: “In case time is deemed not sufficient for the reforms to take place, some of us are committed to pushing for a transitional government provided the people who serve in it will be declared ineligible for contesting for any electoral office for at least a period of 10 years or more.” He said that to that extent, the issue of time did not pose any danger.
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