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Delaying electoral reform is an election rigging process Prof. J. Oloka-Onyango

By Onghwens Kisangala

Civil Society Organizations, the government, donors and other stakeholders appear agreed that major reforms are necessary to improve the electoral process in Uganda. Yet little has been done so far although the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections are bare two years away. Prof. Joe Oloka-Onyango pictured below, the Director of the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) and former Dean of Law at Makerere University explained to The Independents Onghwens Kisangala why the delay could be a ploy to foment electoral fraud.

A number of reform recommendations have been put forward to the Electoral Commission [EC] but none implemented to date. What do you say about this?

Are you a Ugandan or not? You know that in history electoral laws are most delayed. They submit them to Parliament and discuss them on the eve of the election. So there is no time for the so-called discussion, internalisation, no time for understanding anything about the law, or what it might be saying differently from the previous laws.

Why? It is part of the rigging process. You delay the enactment of these laws so that people are taken by surprise.

You know we have had a pattern of introducing electoral law reforms every election. I mean come on, what is that? What does that mean? It means we are just trying to put in laws that can suit particular circumstances Vis a particular election. After every election we say there must be electoral law reforms. So why doesn’t government submit those laws at the earliest possible time for debate? It is deliberate and it is part of the rigging process to delay those reforms.

Do you think the opposition should again go to court over a possible fraudulent election in 2011?

Well it may depend on a lot of things. It depends on who is running, which party is going to court and other technicalities.

You know in the last cases the judges knocked off the cases on grounds that the evidences deduced were not substantial enough to alter the result. What is substantial?

Again it depends. You know that there are some judges that disagreed. They are a minority today but tomorrow they might be the majority. That is the nature of the law. You might have a bench that interprets this substantive as just plus one. So I don’t think we should take it that that provision will be there for ever. There are judges that feel that even a variation of just one vote is substantial. The courts are one avenue that be utilised.

The opposition has always demanded for a role or say in the composition of the EC. How do you see that being done?

That is a matter that has different options. What needs to be done is some research on the operations of the EC in a multi-party context.  Very simple, just go to Kenya, Ghana, Botswana and many other countries even outside Africa and look at them see which model best suits us.

Would you like to just advise the EC on what they could do in 2009 as a prime year to prepare for 2011?

Well I think affecting the electoral law reform should be number one. There should be a draft law and one that is going to be sustainable. Not one designed to accommodate a particular candidate. Secondly I think there is need for reform of the EC it self. The EC is not of a multi-party formation. It is riddled with both political and technical incompetence. And unless those questions are addressed, we will continue to have the same problems.

Generally, law enforcement agencies often cry about the weakness of the laws. How would a law training institution like MUK help?

We do a lot of research on virtually every topic imaginable. And we make our recommendations from police powers to environmental pollution, trade, you name it. But the question is does the government change the law appropriately? You know the process of law reform is a very long one. Secondly the law reform commission is not given sufficient resources to come up with good law proposals.  As you know some of these laws are now out dated and are no longer applicable.

The other thing is that there is a problem even in implementation. Yet even the bad laws that you are saying; that fishermen are depleting the fish reserve almost with impunity, how many of them are arrested catching immature fish? It may only be a handful. You know we dont have a navy or marine force to police the waters sufficiently to catch these people. But I also agree with you that the laws have to be adjusted to reflect the gravity of the situation.

During the 2001/6 presidential election petitions, the supreme court of Uganda recommended several electoral reforms. Other civil society organizations among them Foundation for Human Rights Initiative [FHRI] have done the same. In their report, Electoral reforms in Uganda 2008, FHRI advances among others the following areas for reform; the establishment of mechanisms to enforce Electoral Laws in order to hold free and fair elections in 2011, timely and on-going civic education should be priority of Government and the relevant Government agencies, the involvement and presence of security organs especially the military is intimidating and should therefore not be tolerated. The electoral processes should be supported by the Police force who should be trained personnel in keeping law and order and not military techniques.

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