By Agather Atuhaire
Barely 10 months to the 2016 elections, opposition activists, NGOs, and civil society organisations pushing for electoral reforms are getting desperate. Time is running out. There are about 45 issues raised in the proposals submitted to the executive and they require amending five laws which include the 1995 Constitution, the Electoral Commission Act, the Parliamentary Elections Act, the Presidential Elections Act and the Local government Act. With less than a year to elections, the executive is yet to bring any amendments to Parliament for debate and observers say it may be useless to bring them now.
Even the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has expressed her frustration over the delay to introduce the amendments. She says MPs need time to consider the amendments and consult their voters.
The issue is made more complex because parliament is in the last months of its fourth session. When its fifth and last session begins in late June, the budget will have been read and the first three or so months are spent debating the budget.
This last session is also shorter; less than six months. While other sessions start in June and end in May, the Fifth session ends in December since elections are held at the beginning of the year. Most of this time, the MPs will be out campaigning as the party primaries are to be held between August and October this year.
As the clock ticks, some like Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba, are wondering how, with just 10 months left, anyone can still be talking about reforms needed for next year’s general elections.
“Parliament can’t debate them in the time it is remaining with,” says Niwagaba, “We are better off not debating these reforms than merely passing them in a stampede manner. These reforms need careful deliberations and consultations.”
Another MP, Kenneth Lubogo says there is no time to implement the proposed reforms even if Parliament passes them.
“The proposed reforms affect more than five laws,” he says, “where is the time to consider all that?”
Lubogo says there is no time to restructure the electoral commission, to compile a new voters’ register, and have the Electoral Commission conduct civic education and mobilisation as demanded in the reforms.
The MPs, like other observers have concluded that the delay is because Museveni is not interested in the reforms.
“Government isn’t interested in the amendments,” said Lubogo, “If it was, it would have brought them immediately after the 2011 elections, but you don’t wait until less than a year to elections to bring amendments.”
Lubogo’s view appears credible as the Executive has been giving empty deadline promises since February when members of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Committee with draft Bills they wanted discussed by parliament.
The delegation, led by Livingstone Sewanyana who heads the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) brought drafts of the Constitution Amendment Bill, the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill and the Electoral Commission Amendment Bill.
The delegation told the committee those amendments were necessary for a credible election and acceptable results in 2016. They aimed mainly at the re-constitution of the Electoral Commission.
But the committee headed by Kajara County MP Stephen Tashobya refused to receive the draft Bills saying it is against parliamentary procedure for a committee to receive documents that have not been officially tabled in the House.
The delegation argued that seeing as government was not treating the matters with urgency; they opted to approach the committee responsible for amendments concerning electoral reforms.
But the committee advised the delegation to get an MP to bring the amendments as a Private Member’s Bill. The committee could only review them on the Parliament Speaker’s instruction. The desperate group submitted its proposals to government.
But some observers blame members of parliament for the predicament. They think that the MPs should have taken the initiative to introduce the reforms on the floor without relying on the executive. Niwagaba disagrees.
“The Certificate of Financial Implication which is a major requirement before any bill is introduced isn’t easy to get,” said Niwagaba.
That certificate is issued by the ministry of Finance which, Niwagaba says, would not hand it out easily on a matter as controversial as the electoral reforms.
Meanwhile other groups; the Inter-Party organisation for Dialogue (IPOD), and the National Consultation on Free and fair elections which comprises opposition parties and civil society also submitted more proposals to the executive.
All the three groups unanimously call for the Electoral commission overhaul which includes increasing the number of members of the commission from seven to nine and their term of office of seven years to be non-renewable. This, they argue, will reduce the possibility of them being compromised in anticipation of re-appointment.
They also want the appointment of the commissioners to be open and want them nominated by the Judicial Service Commission before the President appoints them.
A recent research by the International Republican Institute (IRI) also shows that 64% of the respondents do not think the President should appoint the commissioners.
There were other proposals by the National consultative Forum on Free and Fair elections which were not agreed on with IPOD. They include the restoration of Presidential term limits and the abolition of special interest groups in parliament.
Restoration of term limits was also supported by 65% of the respondents in the IRI report. The 1995 Uganda Constitution initially provided for two five year terms for each President but the clause was deleted during the 2005 constitutional amendment.
In the latest development, Attorney General Fredrick Ruhindi had promised that government will table the amendments in the first two weeks of March. At the end of that period, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda told the Daily monitor that he was not giving any new deadline. He said cabinet was still reviewing the proposals and counselled everyone to be patient.
Not everyone is heeding Rugunda’s counsel. Some politicians like former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President Kizza Besigye want Ugandans not to participate in the elections unless there are reforms.
Others, like political Analyst Golooba Mutebi say Museveni will not ignore the Civil Society and opposition’s proposals completely.
He says the government could be looking at the minimum reforms that can be considered in the remaining period of time to satisfy some of the demands of the opposition and the donor community. He says that the opposition must keep in mind that the ruling government must always do things that will give it an upper hand in the election. The opposition, Golooba says, is unlikely and not prepared enough to defeat a government that is prepared to win at all costs.
“The opposition have a tendency of pretending that all their problems are caused by the NRM,” said Golooba, “but they also have a lot of weaknesses.”
“I don’t buy the argument of the opposition that the reforms will necessarily hand them an election victory,” he adds.