24 February 2018

Uganda: Pressure for Constitutional Reform Builds Afresh

Kampala — President Museveni has come under renewed pressure from civil society to carry out major constitutional and electoral reforms ahead of the next cycle of elections.

In a letter dated February 19, 2018, the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) says problems that have plagued all elections since 2001 and undermined their credibility and outcomes are due to failure by government to go through with reforms.

CCEDU is a coalition of more than 800 civil society organisations and individuals advocating electoral democracy in Uganda.

"Many of the substantive and popular electoral reforms have not made it to the legislative agenda, close to two decades later, with significant implications for our growth as a nation," the letter reads in parts.

"Your government's reluctance to consider popular progressive electoral reforms in order to address electoral deficits that have afflicted previous elections, has dented the credibility of electoral processes," the letter signed by CCEDU's coordinator, Mr Crispy Kaheru, adds.

But the Deputy Director of the Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, is quick to dismiss talk of reluctance on the part of government.

"It is not about lack of political will, but sometimes it is bureaucracy. Sometimes it is the systems that we work through," he said.

Reform proposals

On a number of occasions during the life of the 9th Parliament, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga called on government to table a Bill for consideration ahead of the general election to no avail.

President Museveni had promised in his 2014 State of the Nation Address that the amendments would be tabled within a year's time. This did not happen.

Some of the 43 Electoral and Constitutional Reform proposals that the Opposition tabled before Parliament included calls to review the appointment procedure of the Electoral Commission (EC) to make it competitive and participatory.

Other proposals included waiving the requirement for civil servants to resign before being nominated, scrapping the election of special interest groups, introduction of proportional representation and introduction of a five-year ban from elective politics for those found guilty of electoral offences such as voter bribery.

Despite the protestations of the Opposition, civil society and other groups, the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015, was passed without taking the earlier proposals into consideration.

Supreme Court recommendations

In its ruling in the presidential election petition filed by former prime minister Amama Mbabazi in March 2016, the Supreme Court recommended that any election-related law reform be undertaken within two years of the establishment of the new Parliament in order to avoid last- minute hastily enacted legislation on elections".

"What the court recommended was fundamental, but during the recent debate (on removing age limits from the Constitution) they (Parliament) touched peripheral issues. The national issues were not touched," Mr Francis Gimara, the president of Uganda Law Society, said.

In their letter, a copy of which this newspaper has seen, CCEDU argues that the positive impact of some reforms that have been carried out in areas such as voter registration and security of tenure of the EC has been minimal and not helped much to improve the integrity levels and outcome of elections, adding that a lot more has to be done.

"Many of the substantive and popular electoral reforms have not made it to the legislative agenda, close to two decades later, with significant implications for our growth as a nation," the letter adds.

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