6 May 2005

Uganda: Parties to Boycott July Referendum; Govt Releases Shs5b

Kampala — The six major opposition parties (G6) have said they are boycotting the forthcoming referendum.

"G6 condemns the passing of the referendum law in Parliament. All this has been carried out against the acceptable and legitimate Rules of Parliamentary Procedure.

We condemn and as we did in 2000, we shall not participate in this exercise that aims at entrenchment of one-party state legislation against the opposition. This is the epitome of the highest kind of dictatorship," the group said in a statement issued yesterday.

Mr Chapaa Karuhanga, an envoy of the Forum for Democratic Change and G6 coordinating chairman, read out the G6's position to journalists and representatives of major donor nations including Britain, the United States of American and Denmark. The country representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Mr Peter's Jurgen, attended the conference at Christ the King Church premises.

Karuhanga said that instead of pushing for the referendum the government should consider calling a national conference to chart the way forward for the country.

"G6 has always proposed that the political system be changed using the cheaper method of district councils' petition and a resolution by Parliament...To spend Shs30 billion (about U$17m) on the referendum is to negate and indeed it is a betrayal of the suffering people of Uganda...We must get our priorities correct," the statement read.

In 2000 all the major opposition parties boycotted a referendum which confirmed the Movement system. Observers said then that only about 30 percent of the eligible voters participated.

The G6, comprising the Uganda People's Congress, the Democratic Party, the Conservative Party, the Forum for Democratic Change, the Justice Forum Party and The Free Movement said in the statement that they were considering to pull out of the entire transition unless government adhered to a set of demands.

The Minister of State for Information Dr Nsaba Buturo, told The Monitor yesterday, that the boycott exposes who the G6 are. "They are the same people complaining that they want open political space and then they turn around. What justifies their refusal?" he wondered. "They (G6) have no strong argument and I appeal to them to be serious. Their behaviour shows that they have a hidden agenda we don't understand," Buturo said by telephone.

At the Cabinet press briefing yesterday, Buturo said the government wass determined to have a political process that is as free and transparent as it can be. "What political leaders must do is to trust the public and encourage them to participate in making decisions on major issues."

The Minister of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Adolf Mwesige, at the same press conference also announced that government had already released Shs 5 billion to the Electoral Commission.

"Following the tabling of the referendum motion in Parliament, government through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning released Shs5 billion to start activities of the referendum, like civic education. Funds couldn't be released before passing of the law," Mwesige said.

The parties' move to announce a boycott follows Tuesday's Parliamentary vote that cleared the way for the EC to organise a referendum to determine the country's future political system.

At the G6's press conference, Mr Okello-Okello represented the UPC, Mr Damiano Lubega the DP, Assuman Basalirwa, Jeema while lawyer John Matovu and Karuhanga represented FDC.

"The undersigned six political parties/organisations would like to bring it to the attention of the people of Uganda, the Parliament, the Judiciary and the diplomatic corps representing their countries in Uganda, that the long anticipated transition from a one party Movement government to a democratic multiparty system is being systematically undermined by President Museveni, his government and a largely compromised and partisan Parliament," Karuhanga said.

The parties condemned the way the constitution amendment process was being handled saying it was only meant to entrench Museveni, driving the country from a "one party dictatorship to a fully fledged Museveni dictatorship."

Karuhanga said the political process was being militarised through reinforcing the paramilitary group Kalangala Action Plan [KAP] of Maj. Roland Kakooza Mutale that is now being joined by Members of Parliament and ministers.

"The G6 condemns in the strongest terms possible the militarisation, manipulation and vulgarisation of the transition process," Karuhanga said.

He said it was shocking that the same MPs that two years ago condemned KAP over its involvement in election violence were now joining the group.

"The G6 has watched with consternation Museveni's machinations to cling on to power using illegal paramilitary groups and mafia-like political machinations. Many MPs have been bribed with an initial Shs5 million to support Museveni's bid for life presidency."

The group outlined six demands and warned that failure to heed the proposals, "the G6 will seriously reconsider its position in participating in a flawed so-called transition process."

Among the demands, the parties want Parliament to stop debate on the two constitutional amendment bills and handle only the transition to multi-party democracy and amendment of others like the Political Parties and Organisations Act, the Elections Act, and the Local Government Act.

They also demand that the government withdraws the two bills and instead replace them with one bill covering all matters about the transition "so that Parliament can dispose of them expeditiously in order for the transition process to take effect without further delay."

They also demanded that government speeds up inquiries into an alleged over 1000 political detainees in the country's jails, reconstitute the Electoral Commission to provide for an impartial one, stop debate on and maintain Article 105 (2) on presidential term limits and call a national conference to "chart out the future for this country on the basis of consensus and for the purposes of forging true national unity and a democratic culture for the present and the future."

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