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One year after the elections

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Opposition, donors divided on how to remove Museveni

As President Yoweri Museveni struggles to get a handle on affairs of state a year since the February 18, 2011election, major donors say the political opposition doesn’t seem to be capitalising on the key issues and could be approaching business the wrong way.

Leading donors criticised the election as riddled with avoidable mistakes, highly monetised and overwhelmed by the power of incumbency. They also said the opposition had “genuine concerns” about the election, but they still differed with the opposition on the way forward.

The donors argue that since the democratisation process has historically been progressively perfected, the Ugandan opposition should continue to aspire for reforms even in the face of false starts.

“Building democratic governance is a process, not an event, and we hoped the opposition would focus on the bigger picture (after the election) and ensure a better 2016 (the date for the next election),” a top European diplomat told The Independent.

The diplomat, who requested not to be named because his job doesn’t allow him to publicly discuss local politics, said there should have been a “constructive engagement” after the election on issues like how the Electoral Commission is constituted and its effectiveness.

But the mainstream political opposition disagrees with this view and instead argues that Museveni must first be removed before any reorganisations are attempted. Having rejected the election results and vowed not to recognise Museveni as the validly elected president, the opposition set out to organise popular uprising against Museveni’s government.

“This is the time for Ugandans to rise (in Egypt-style protests against Museveni),” declared FDC President Kizza Besigye shortly after the election results were declared on February 20, 2011. Besigye and Museveni lost and gained ten percentage points compared to the 2006 election respectively in a third consecutive two-horse race in a decade.

Museveni polled 68 percent against Besigye’s 26 percent. Democratic Party President Norbert Mao garnered 1.8 percent, followed by UPC’s Olara Otunnu with 1.6 percent. The rest of the candidates – Uganda Federal Alliance’s Beti Kamya, Peoples Development Party’s Abed Bwanika, Peoples Progressive Party’s Bidandi, and independent Samuel Lubega –polled less than one percent each.

Besigye, who had stood on an Interparty Cooperation (IPC) ticket, said the election had been “massively stolen” through bribery, intimidation and outright vote rigging and manipulation of results. The IPC brought together FDC, Conservative Party, Social Democratic Party and the Mengo-leaning Ssuubi pressure group.

In dismissing the results, Otunnu pointed at a “strange twist of logic” in the report by the Commonwealth election observation team. The report showed an array of shortcomings in the preparation and conduct of the elections but concluded that the results by and large reflected the popular will.

The UPC National Council resolved in May 2011 that “UPC will not recognise any administration constituted on the basis of the purported outcome of the sham elections”.

“It is now manifestly clear that it is not possible to achieve democratic change in Uganda working within the mould, framework, institutions, processes and arrangements which are organised and controlled by Yoweri Museveni and his regime,” the UPC National Council continued, arguing that the way forward to build a “social movement” against Museveni.

Mao and Lubega also rejected the results, refused to recognise Museveni and joined in post election protests against him.

Only peripheral candidates – Kamya, Bwanika and Bidandi – took a conciliatory approach after the election, with only Bwanika attending Museveni’s inauguration on May 12, 2011.

Reforms versus protests

In the opinion of the Commonwealth election observation team, “The main concerns regarding the campaign and the election was the “lack of a level playing field, the use of money and abuse of incumbency in the process”.

The diplomat who talked to The Independent said the opposition would be well served to consider the findings and recommendations of election observation teams, “especially the Commonwealth team”.

But many of the leading opposition politicians don’t see much in these reports. “What new thing did that report (of the Commonwealth team) raise?” Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi challenged on being asked what they are doing about the report’s recommendations.

Mafabi said whatever was written in the report are the same things the opposition has been saying for a long time. “We know these issues and (we) have a plan (to handle them),” Mafabi added.

The Commonwealth team had called for an array of measures to be taken in the post election period to ensure better elections in the future. One such measure is putting in place “more stringent and explicit regulations limiting the use of state resources for campaign purposes”.

Museveni’s ruling NRM was accused of using big sums of public resources to finance the campaign, with an unprecedented supplementary budget of Shs 602b being passed to support mainly campaign related activities.

The team added that the entitlements of the president related to elections should be listed to allow transparency and that regulations should be instituted to compel candidates to provide detailed accounts of campaign funding and expenditure in future elections.

To create a level playing field in the future, the Commonwealth observers called for more thought to be given to election campaign financing and political party fundraising.

For most of these suggestions to be handled, there is need for legislative activity and observers say laws concerning elections can more easily and objectively be passed when there is no impending election. However, the opposition hasn’t indicated that it will introduce such Bills or campaign for their introduction anytime soon.

Fix Electoral Commission

Perhaps the most controversial issue in the run-up to last year’s election was the composition and competence of the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commissioners are appointed by the President and approved by Parliament, both of which would favour the ruling NRM as before. Arguments have been made of a reconstitution of the Commission so that different parties propose candidates or an independent appointing body is constituted to do the job.

Protesting IPC women in black T-shirts had almost become a permanent feature around the Electoral Commission offices. They demanded that the Badru Kiggundu-led commission, which they accused of being partial to the ruling party, be disbanded and replaced by a bi-partisan one to fit the multiparty dispensation.

The opposition had earlier protested the reappointment of Kiggundu. In August 2009, as Kiggundu and his fellow commissioners were being approved for a second seven-year term, opposition legislators stormed out of the Parliamentary Appointments Committee chaired by the then Speaker Edward Ssekandi in protest.

Kiggundu was however approved and President Museveni refused to drop him and his commissioners despite sustained pressure from the opposition and donors in the run-up to the election.

It should worry the opposition more that the fact that Kiggundu was reappointed on August 5, 2009, means that his term of office will not have expired by February or March 2016, when the next election is expected.

So why have Besigye’s and the wider opposition’s post-election protests been silent about Electoral Commission reform? Where did the Women for Peace in black T-shirts go?

The Commonwealth election observation team recommended Electoral Commission reform, focussing on “changing the appointment mechanism of commissioners to ensure a more inclusive process”. They also called for instituting a mechanism of dismissal of commissioners that protects them from any vested interests.

Still, whereas this is an issue that will require the opposition to push hard and campaign for legal reform, it is a job that has not yet started.

Voter identification

The Commonwealth team further called for the cleaning up of the voter register, “through a reliable Id document for voting”. Earlier elections were riddled with complaints about a bloated voter register and a final solution is expected to emanate from the issuance of national Ids. Responding to recent media reports that the firm that was contracted to make national Ids for Ugandans had produced only 400 pieces in years having used up billions, a State House statement said the project was suffering from lack of funding.Whereas the project needs Shs100 billion to be finished, the statement said, a mere Shs 600 million was availed in the 2010/2011 financial year. The statement added that a number of “significant activities” in the project had been carried out. What are these activities? Procurement of 4,000 mobile data enrolment units, training of 8,000 data capture operators and the procurement of 1,000 generators (mobile power suppliers). The earliest date for finishing the project, according to the statement, is 2014.The government is currently experiencing a funding shortfall and since producing national IDs may not be a top priority of those in government, it is possible the 2014 date will be overshot and that the IDs may not be in place by the 2016 election. Why doesn’t the opposition seem to be pushing enough for them?

Museveni must go first

Opposition leaders say they have a different agenda to pursue first.“People keep talking about 2016 as if it were a normal date on Uganda’s election calendar,” said Otunnu.He argues that it would be foolhardy of the opposition to expect reforms under Museveni.Besigye agrees with Otunnu on this one. Addressing a rally at Kawempe on Jan. 26, Besigye told his supporters that they now understand Museveni’s approach.“He (Museveni) rigs elections and pours a lot of money in the country in the last three months before the elections and afterwards he urges the country to wait for another election after five years.”“There will be no 2016 (elections),” Besigye said, “We are not talking about 2016; we are talking about 2012”. Besigye added that Museveni printed two trillion shillings to buy the last election, leading to the current monetary squeeze aimed at mopping it up.

Besigye says Museveni must be removed immediately through demonstrations and he enjoys support from a wide section of the opposition. “Never change a winning strategy,” says FDC Women’s League chairperson Ingrid Turinawe of the use of protests to fight Museveni.

The opposition has resumed a round of protests under Walk to Work Reloaded, following in the tracks of successful protests that began in April 2011 that heavily shook Museveni’s government. The government got bad press due to its handling of protesters, including Besigye who was brutalised during a violent arrest.

But should the protests fail to remove Museveni, does the opposition have a fallback strategy?

At the moment they don’t seem to have one. They could once again be caught out late trying to push for electoral reforms and engage in grassroots mobilisation.

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