By Agather Atuhaire
Pundits are warning that President Yoweri Museveni’s disregard of the people’s voices might lead to a chaotic election or even a boycott.
“With these new developments,” said Makerere University don Mwambutsya Ndebesa, “the fate of the elections looks very uncertain.”
On the day the Constitutional Amendment Bill was presented to Parliament, the opposition pressure group; For God and My Country (4GC) which organised the 2011 Walk-to-Work protests that paralysed the country launched a new campaign.
Dubbed the Citizens’ Reforms Now (CIREN), the new 4GC campaign, organisers say, aims to put pressure on government to withdraw the Bill and introduce one that has the reforms that were proposed by a wide-spectrum of Ugandans.
During the launch of the new campaign, former FDC President Kizza Besigye who was at the centre of Walk-to-Work protests said the government’s belligerence on electoral reforms has pushed Ugandans to the edge. He said many are at the point of engaging in violence. Besigye, who is a former leader of Uganda’s biggest opposition party; the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was flanked by opposition stalwarts; Erias Lukwago, the embattled Lord Mayor of the Kampala Capital City Authority, and Asuman Basalirwa, the president of JEEMA party.
Although democracy activists and politicians handed over to the government last year 40 proposed electoral reforms; dubbed `The Uganda Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections’ (UCOFFE), none of them was in the document on April 30 when the government tabled the long-awaited Constitutional amendment Bill to Parliament.
Instead, the government tabled six amendments with only one of them touching on the electoral process. And, many commentators have said, it is a cynical one. It proposes that the name of the Electoral Commission be changed to the “Independent Electoral Commission”.
The coordinator of the Citizens’ coalition on Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), Crispy Kaheru, said it was shocking that the government would table a Bill like that after sitting on the proposals they were given for close to a year saying they were discussing them.
“You would think that the length of time cabinet took discussing the reforms would result into acceptable reforms,” he said.
But prominent lawyer and former Ugandan representative in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Dan Wandera Ogalo, told The Independent that he was not surprised by the government’s move. And his comments reflected the anger felt by many.
“Museveni’s government has never respected the will of the people,” the opposition politician said, “Ugandans are taken as imbeciles and idiots.”
Another lawyer and Makerere University law Lecturer; Busingye Kabumba also described the contents of the Bill as “very cynical” and a disregard of the real issues that a range of actors collected from Ugandans.
No chance for opposition
Despite the heated initial reaction, some observers are predicting that Museveni, as usual, might have his way. His party; NRM, has an overwhelming majority in parliament and the opposition MPs have stood no chance in past confrontations.
In the run up to the last election in 2011, the opposition and civil society activists protested on the streets demanding the disbandment of the Electoral Commission.
The protesters were mostly advocating for the sacking of the commission’s Chairman Badru Kigundu accusing him of failing to organise free and fair elections. They wanted Kigundu replaced with someone who would uphold the Independence of the commission and defend it from influence and interference from the incumbent government.
The protests were violently quelled by the army and police and some of the protesters, mostly the women led by the leader of the FDC Women’s League were hospitalised after sustaining injuries from the scuffles with the police.
Immediately after the 2011 elections, the activists were joined by the donor community in fresh agitation for electoral reforms if there was to be a credible election in 2016.
When the government seemed unbothered, the activists took it upon themselves to undertake nationwide consultations to collect proposals on electoral reforms from Ugandans. The outcome was the 40 proposals handed to the government that have now been trashed.
New plots emerge
The activists and the opposition politicians have vowed to fight on to force the government to consider their electoral reform proposals. Kaheru told the Independent that CCEDU and its partners will not give up. He said they are going to continue mounting advocacy for a more inclusive Bill which takes into consideration the concerns of Ugandans which were expressed in the proposals that were submitted.
The opposition MPs have also vowed to fight them in parliament. The opposition MPs on the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to which the Bill was referred say they will not support the report of the committee if it does not address the concerns that were left out of the Bill. The Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu parliament asked Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah to rule on whether the opposition members can table their own separate bill or whether they should submit their proposals to the committee.
It is not clear if the on-going regime of threats will culminate in either a boycott of elections or significant concessions from the government. Part of the problem is that the opposition leaders adopted a very confusing stance on the issue of boycott.
“We shall do everything in our power to stop any other election that does not conform to the principles of free and fair elections,” Besigye said at the launch of the new protest group; CIREN.
He added: “We shall not allow Mr Museveni and Badru Kiggundu to organise a sham election…we are saying enough is enough.”
But at the same time, JEEMA boss Asuman Basalirwa who was seated right next to Besigye said: “This is not a struggle for a boycott; none of us is going to boycott the next elections”.
It is, therefore, not clear what the opposition political leadership are planning. In the run-up to the 2011 election, out-going UPC president Olara Otunnu tried to mobilise opposition parties to boycott the election unless the government reforms the process. He failed.
Even before the current frenzy erupted, researcher and political analyst Frederick Golooba Mutebi had in an interview with the Independent warned the opposition not to expect Museveni to hand them the reforms they proposed. He warned the opposition to keep in mind that the ruling government which is prepared to win at all costs must always do things that will give it an upper hand in the election.
Makerere University’s Ndebesa echoed this sentiment after the Bill was tabled. He said those opposing him should not expect Museveni to bow to any amount of pressure and he would not willingly do anything that will jeopardise his stay in power. “Besides, he doesn’t look at democracy and good governance as very important,” Ndebesa said, in a remark that sets the tone for the election which is less than 10 months away.