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 Elections. It proposed among others; Constitution 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