Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga has called for electoral reforms, in a move that echoes similar demands by civil society organisations and opposition political parties.
Speaking at a conference organized by Parliament with support from National Democratic Institute (NDI) and USAID to reflect on the 2016 elections, the Speaker expressed disappointment with previous attempts at electoral reforms and voter education, saying it’s “either done late, or not all”.
“The 9th Parliament for me was an era of frustration because I pushed government way ahead of time to bring reforms but it was brought six months to elections and there was a stampede and no time,” she said on Friday, 25 November at Protea Hotel in Kampala.
Several participants from Civil Society Organisations, including Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), wondered why the suggestions for reforms they presented to the Speaker ahead of the 2016 elections, were ignored by government.
“What happened to the reforms? Yes I received the proposals but let me tell you, I was also disappointed. Parliament had proposals but they were thrown in the dustbin by Cabinet. They said they were not urgent,” Ms Kadaga, who was the chief guest, said.
She added: “Let there be additional pressure from the ground, maybe government will listen.”
Electoral Commission Secretary Sam Rwakoojo said voter education for the 2021 elections should start now, because if the country waits until campaign time, there will be competition for attention to messages from the Commission and those campaigning for political offices.
He appealed to Ugandans to offer constructive criticisms to the EC, saying elections are a process and any feedback given should be on the whole process and not just the end activity of voting.
“The EC was heavily criticized for late delivery of voting materials in parts of Kampala and Wakiso. No body remembered that we have had improvements over the years and the voter register was far much better,” Mr Rwakoojo said.
He added: “We do welcome criticisms that build institutions. There are omissions that the Commission makes but those omissions don’t amount to fraud.”
Ms Margaret Sekajja, the executive director of Human Rights Centre Uganda, said if reforms are not brought in time, it will be taken over by events and “people will interpret it that government is not listening to their representatives”.
President Museveni recently appointed a new team to replace the Badru-Kiggundu led Commission whose term expired on 17 November. The opposition and civil society organisations who have been demanding for reforms in the composition and appointment of the EC, viewed the President’s action as inconsiderate.
Mr Simon Osborn, the NDI Country Director, said it’s incumbent upon all stakeholders “to create an environment that can create goodwill for electoral reforms and so that people don’t spend ridiculous amounts of money during elections”.
Earlier, some MPs had complained that religious leaders besiege them during election time with demands for money in strategically organized fundraisers, and the politicians end up spending a lot of money since they don’t want to disappoint their potential voters.
“We need to regulate spending during elections. For MPs, most of the money goes to fundraising in churches and mosques,” said Kitagwenda County MP Abbas Agaba.
His colleague, Muwanga Kuvumbi, also shadow internal affairs minister, said “religious leaders blackmail politicians during elections” and called on the Uganda Join Christian Council to do more in addressing the issue.
Unlike the majority, MP Muwanga said the country doesn’t need electoral reforms because there already exist sufficient laws that can guarantee free and fair elections.
“Do we really need electoral reforms or a supermarket of good will?” he wondered, adding the country also needs to start a debate on how to retire President Museveni.
“In this coming budget, we should have allocations on how to take care of a retired old president.”
The conference, that sought to bring multiple stakeholders together to reflect on the 2016 elections, came up with several recommendations, some of which were that;
- The Electoral Commission should display results as they come at tallying centres, make use of social media and update its website regularly with election results.
- Stakeholders should dissolve the disconnect between Kampala lobbying for electoral reforms and those in the grassroots so that a consensus is reached.
- Form a core team of influential people to spearhead calls for reforms, including convincing the president and executive to lend an ear to calls for reforms.
- Civic education should be a continuous process and if possible made a subject in schools like it was in the past.
- The media should be non-partisan and give coverage to all political parties and individuals.
Related article: Read an opinion article on why, despite appoinment of a new EC, calls for electoral reforms are still valid.