CSOs reject government proposals on electoral reforms

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NOT GOVERNMENT’S “GIMMICKS”: Crispy Kaheru, The Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU),

Civil society organizations in Uganda that were at the forefront of pushing for electoral reforms ahead of the 2016 general elections, say proposals in the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 produced by government are a “gimmick”.

The Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), one of the groups that spearheaded electoral reforms, has expressed dismay at government’s decision to ignore proposals by civil society and opposition, which included issues such as reinstatement of presidential term limits and clipping the President’s powers over the Electoral Commission.

“We had high expectations in the content of the bill that was coming from the government side. The bill is limiting in several aspects yet we thought that substantive issues that touch on the quality of Ugandans would be catered for in the bill,” CCEDU Coordinator Crispy Kaheru says.

He added that once Parliament calls for public hearings, the civil society will retable its proposals.

Another activist, Godber Tumushabe, also accused government of reneging on its commitment to consider the alternative views of other parties.

“There is a compact document outlining 17 electoral reforms that would have overhauled the electoral system and ensure credibility of elections. Government has demonstrated the highest level of impunity against citizens by ignoring this,” Tumushabe, a policy analyst said. Cissy Kagaba, the Executive Director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) said the delay to table the reforms was a warning sign that government’s commitment was non-existent.

“What will changing the name of EC do to change the status quo? It shows how far government is willing to entrench itself in power by taking control of key institutions,” Kagaba says.

However, Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi has supported the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 that gives President Yoweri Museveni more powers in appointing and removing commissioners to the Independent Electoral Commission despite protests by the Opposition.

Under the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2015, expected to be tabled in Parliament for first reading today (Thursday, 30th) , the President will maintain powers to appoint the EC commissioners with the approval of Parliament.  Any question for the removal of a member of the new Commission shall again be referred to a tribunal appointed by the President.

These proposals fly in the face of suggestions put forward by the Opposition and civil society groups.  The Opposition wanted the current Electoral Commission disbanded and a new body called the Independent Electoral Commission replaces it. While making a case for the proposals, Vice President Ssekandi told journalists at Parliament that the President, appointing members of the Commission, cannot give him grounds to influence the electoral body. “That one is not a problem, the question of who is appointing.

There must be someone appointing. If an individual is given powers to appoint a Commission, it does not mean that the person will influence the working of that Commission. So the question of the President being involved will not tell them to do this or the other,” said Ssekandi.

Beti Kamya, the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) President, said the Opposition should now focus on forcing a referendum.  “For us [UFA], we shall continue with the process of calling for a referendum. I invite them to cut their losses and join the process of calling for a national referendum as we prepare for 2021,” said Kamya, a former presidential aspirant.