By Joan Akello
JEEMA party president Asuman Basalirwa spoke to The Independent’s Joan Akello about his party’s roadmap to the 2016 general elections.
What challenges are you facing in preparation for 2016?
The opposition’s most critical challenge is impunity, abuse of the law, the failure to respect the constitution and decisions of court, violation of fundamental rights and freedoms. All efforts are now geared towards addressing impunity. You will talk about the electoral laws and an enabling environment but the legislations will not address impunity. It is possible for President Museveni to concede to all the electoral reforms and do the opposite. We have to look at the obstacles to a free and fair election.
The electoral laws are very wanting, we have a partial Electoral Commission (EC) appointed under the movement system. It does not command respect and confidence of other contestant. It has to be addressed. We have made proposals on how to constitute the EC. One of them is the chairman of the EC should be at the level of a High Court Judge, the political parties should be able to nominate two to three candidates whose names are forwarded to the Judicial Service Commission which makes recommendations to parliament for approval . Secondly, we think that the presidential results should be announced from the various polling stations, waiting for them to be transferred to Kampala can only breed what Gen. Sejusa talked about. He said results were being brought to Basima House and the army would decide what to send to the EC from Basima House. If presidential results are announced at the polling stations, then such incidences will be minimised.
What about the presence of the army at polling stations?
We have redefined the role of the army, police and militia. The police should continue with its constitutional role of ensuring law and order and the army of territorial integrity not subverting the will of the people. We proposed certain electoral reforms from 2009 to 2010 but unfortunately they were not considered in parliament. It is still necessary to look at those reforms ton enable a free and fair election.
How far have gone to ensure that these reforms are implemented at parliament?
I am aware that the shadow Attorney general is working with political parties and other stakeholders to ensure that those electoral reforms are scheduled and discussed in parliament but it will all depend on the good will of the government in power since they are the majority, but we are at advanced stages.
How are you strategising to beat the National Resistance Movement (NRM)?
The most fundamental aspect is not beating NRM but ensuring a free and fair election. We do not mind if NRM wins an election as long as it is free and fair. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative released a report recently showing that multiparty politics has not taken root in Uganda. No political party is free to hold a rally or an assembly; associational freedoms are virtually nonexistent in Uganda and in such an environment political parties are dead and dysfunctional. Our partners; the media are being strangled with the censorship and threats from government. We need to free the legal and political space to carryout out our activities as political parties.
What is JEEMA doing now in preparation for 2016?
We don’t live in isolation so the difficulties the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), and Democratic Party (DP) face in trying to hold an assembly are the same challenges we face. Our headquarters in Mengo are constantly besieged. Our strategies are how to overcome the above challenges. We have opened offices in Bugiri, Mukono, Bukomansimbi and Wakiso. We are encouraging our members who contested in the last election to get to the ground and inspiring others to get interested in the next but we do all these with great difficulty.
Some observers say that the opposition is weak largely due to factions. What is assessment of the impact and timing of the recent changes the president of Forum of Democratic Change (FDC) Maj. Mugisha Muntu made in parliament?
They are expected, healthy and should be encouraged. We have been criticising President Museveni for overstaying in power but we the opposition must lead by example. Even President Museveni should learn from these changes and experiences. I also think it will make FDC and opposition stronger.
Dr. Besigye said he would beat the system but it beat him for the third time in 2011?
Let us revisit what the Supreme Court said in 2001 and 2006. In 2001, there were four questions that were asked, whether the election was conducted in accordance to the constitution; whether there was intimidation, ballot stuffing, and bribery; and whether all that substantially affected the result of the election. The first three were constitutional questions, and the fourth one was on personal judgment. The seven justices of the Supreme Court did agree on the three constitutional questions that the election was not conducted in accordance with the constitution. In other words that the election was not free and fair. So when we talk about 2001 and 2006, those elections were not free and fair. You cannot talk about President Museveni as having been the winner of that election. The Supreme Court was just timid; they fell short of pronouncing themselves on the constitutionality of that election. If they were brave enough, we would have gone for a rerun, a fresh election. We are discussing what we should do to ensure we avoid what happened in 2001, 2006, and 2011.
How will you do it?
We have a structural problem where there is fusion of the party with the state. State institutions have been personalised. The army and police serve one individual. Museveni can write a chit to the Governor Bank of Uganda and money will be released. The structural weaknesses are what we need to address. That requires building the civic consciousness of the people through activism, dialogue, and negotiation through a National Convention or conference, through legislation, and by challenging in a court of law some of the omissions and commissions that undermine the constitution and the rule of law. We should be engaged in these three processes concurrently. This should be of interest to anybody who wants a free and fair election.
Why are observers saying the opposition is sleeping while President Museveni is traversing the country?
The circumstances under which we operate are difficult. You cannot hold a rally or an assembly even town hall meetings are not allowed. So you cannot speak to people, recruit or move. Some leaders have been arrested at their homes. Recently, I was going to Kabale but was arrested and detained at Nsangi Police Station. We must challenge these excesses through activism, dialogue, legislation, and judicial intervention. The President is moving; that is right. You try to move as opposition and you will see what is going to happen. . Public funds are being abused with the President moving with sacks of money and the treasury is being raided for all sorts of things. Court orders are being disrespected. The issue of cadreship is emerging in the judiciary. The hope we have in the judiciary is slowly diminishing. These are issues that cannot be handled by opposition leaders, they are national issues that the public must take interest in and prepare to confront. You cannot leave it to Basalirwa, Col (Rtd) Dr. Kizza Besigye, Lukwago, these are very few.
What lessons did you learn from the 2011 elections and is there a possibility of another coalition in 2016?
I do not want us to focus our minds on 2016. If we do, we will lose the objective of the struggle. The primary objective is having a free and fair election that can be in 2016 or earlier or after 2016. Nobody should think about a boycott because President Museveni and the NRM can deliberately fail to have electoral reforms thinking that the opposition may boycott. Nobody amongst our ranks is talking about a boycott so nobody is going to boycott the next election.
In 2011, we did not have enough discussion on what we wanted clearly as the opposition. This time round, discussions started as early as 2012 and we are in a position to agree on a minimum agenda before the next election.
How do you see the future of Uganda and what are some of the likely challenges for Ugandans?
The future is bleak. I am pessimistic in the sense that the transition from President Museveni to another leader remains obscure. If Museveni thinks he will go down with the country, some of us are not going to allow it; especially those of us who are still young. It is important for President Museveni and Ugandans to begin thinking of a post-Museveni Uganda and the management of the transition of Museveni to another person to ensure that that transition is peaceful and does not lead to any disintegration of the country. There is an age limit which is in the constitution, not in the Bible or Quran. Like the term limits, it is possible for him to engineer an amendment to have the age limit removed from the constitution. It is really dangerous. I predict that if President Museveni does not behave in as far as his future plans are concerned, this country will disintegrate.
What is the way forward?
Continuous engagement and building capacity of the masses to able to capture their country; otherwise it is in the hands of few people who are taking it in a direction which is unclean.