It is high time Par­lia­ment re­sponds to Elec­tion Ob­servers’ rec­om­men­da­tions

By: MUSA MU­GOYA

The op­po­si­tion in Uganda have on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions raised con­cerns that have ac­cord­ing to them led to their  loss on po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in fa­vor of the rul­ing Na­tional Re­sis­tance Party. These con­cerns in­clude : in­tim­i­da­tion and ha­rass­ment of their sup­port­ers, and the mis­use of state agen­cies and re­sources by the in­cum­bency among oth­ers.

How­ever, their main point for not con­ced­ing de­feat es­pe­cially on Pres­i­den­tial and Par­lia­men­tary lev­els has been the lack of in­de­pen­dence and cred­i­bil­ity in the in­sti­tu­tion of the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (EC) in or­ga­niz­ing free and fair elec­tions. Post-elec­tion vi­o­lence and great eco­nomic loss to the coun­try is al­most in most cases premised on the afore­men­tioned fact.

The Eu­ro­pean Union (EU) Elec­tions Ob­ser­va­tion Mis­sion team to Uganda re­it­er­ated the is­sue and high­lighted this in their pre­lim­i­nary re­port on the 2011 Gen­eral elec­tions, re­leased 20th Feb­ru­ary 2011 : ‘Im­prove­ments Marred by Avoid­able Fail­ures,’ noted with con­cern the in­cum­ben­cy’s over ex­er­cise of pow­ers to the ex­tent that it se­verely com­pro­mises the level play­ing field be­tween the com­pet­ing can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal par­ties. As was the case af­ter the 2006 Gen­eral elec­tion, the team rec­om­mended a re­form of the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion­ers’ ap­point­ment process. A sim­i­lar rec­om­men­da­tion was made by an­other group, the Com­mon Wealth Ob­server Group 2011, in their re­port on the same.

Both ob­server teams rec­om­mended that Gov­ern­ment cre­ates a le­gal ba­sis for a trans­par­ent pro­ce­dure for the ap­point­ment of the Com­mis­sion­ers of the EC in or­der to awaken the elec­torates’ trust in the in­sti­tu­tion. The process would en­tail a joint panel of the Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion and the Ju­di­cial Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, who would draft a list of qual­i­fied can­di­dates for rec­om­men­da­tion for ap­point­ment by the Pres­i­dent, from whom the best can­di­date would be cho­sen as it is done with judges. Leav­ing the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and ap­point­ment process to only the Pres­i­dency and ap­proval by a Par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity would only be a recipe for dis­as­ter as it would lead to pa­tron­age. They fur­ther rec­om­mended that to be able to achieve greater con­sen­sus, both op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety voices should be in­volved in the ap­point­ment process.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter an­nounc­ing its Strate­gic Plan for the 2016 Gen­eral Elec­tions in 2013, the EC came un­der at­tack from var­i­ous op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the Uganda Peo­ple’s Con­gress (UPC) Party con­demned the man­ner in which the EC com­mis­sion­ers were ap­pointed, as­sert­ing that it is a clear in­di­ca­tion of the in­sti­tu­tion be­ing an ex­ten­sion of the NRM gov­ern­ment which can­not al­low de­feat for their ap­point­ing au­thor­ity.

This was fol­lowed by both the op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties and civil so­ci­ety’s launch­ing of the Free and Fair Elec­tion Cam­paign, tra­vers­ing the whole coun­try sen­si­tiz­ing and mo­bi­liz­ing the masses on the need for elec­toral re­forms. This was suc­cess­fully con­ducted and their rec­om­men­da­tions to par­lia­ment recorded in what was is re­ferred to as; The Cit­i­zens Com­pact on Free and Fair Elec­tionsIt pro­posed among oth­ersCon­sti­tu­tion and Elec­toral Amend­ments to re­form the process of ap­point­ing com­mis­sion­ers to the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion.

How­ever, nei­ther did the amend­ments passed in the Con­sti­tu­tion (Amend­ment) Bill, 2015; Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tions(Amend­ment) Bill 2015; and Par­lia­men­tary Elec­tions (Amend­ment) Bill 2015 by Par­lia­ment last year re­spond to the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained in the Com­pact nor ad­dress the con­cerns of Elec­tions Ob­servers Teams since 2001

The amend­ments ad­dressed the less im­por­tant like the re­nam­ing of the elec­toral body from ‘Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’ to ‘In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion’- we were just en­gag­ing in copy-cuts from Kenya, the ques­tion is not about the name of the EC, but the ap­point­ment process of the mem­bers of the EC and their level of im­par­tial­ity; the in­crease in nom­i­na­tion fees for the Pres­i­dent (from Ugx 8m to 20m) and Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment ( from Ugx 0.2m to 3m re­flect­ing a 1400% in­cre­ment)- mak­ing democ­racy ex­pen­sive and only af­ford­able by the rich; the chang­ing of the vot­ing time to 7 am to 4 pm from 8 am to 5 pm, dis­en­fran­chised many peo­ple be­cause the EC failed to de­liver vot­ing ma­te­r­ial ons time .

The fail­ure by Par­lia­ment to give its elec­torate core elec­toral amend­ment on the ac­count of lack of ad­e­quate time to deal with the amend­ments was un­con­vinc­ing. That is why this time the EU team had to say; Voter en­thu­si­asm for de­mo­c­ra­tic process eclipsed by at­mos­phere of in­tim­i­da­tion and rul­ing party con­trol of state re­sources in Ugan­da’s third multi-party elec­tions.

For the next Gen­eral elec­tions, Gov­ern­ment should take upon it­self to con­sider and process rec­om­men­da­tions from both lo­cal and for­eign teams like for the later they come at the in­vi­ta­tion of gov­ern­ment, their par­tic­i­pa­tion in our elec­toral process should not be for rit­u­al­is­tic pur­poses. And there­after, table them be­fore Par­lia­ment on time. Mem­bers of the 10th Par­lia­ment should also make use of these re­ports when the time comes. That said, the need for a trans­par­ent ap­point­ment process of the mem­bers of the EC in this Coun­try is long over­due