ELECTORAL REFORMS TO ESTABLISH A CREDIBLE ELECTIONS MANAGEMENT SYSTEM IN UGANDA
1. Thank you Chairman and Members of the Committee for inviting the FDC to interface with you with regard to your ongoing work on constitutional reforms. As a Party, FDC is part of the non-partisan coalition – the Free and Fair Elections Campaign – whose goal is to advocate for the establishment of a credible electoral management system in Uganda. It is therefore in this context that we address this Committee today.
B. Our Messages to the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
2. As the Forum for Democratic Change, we are obliged to submit the views that are shared across by the citizens of Uganda, organizations and citizens’ formations that subscribe to the Free and Fair Elections Campaign. We are therefore here to deliver three specific messages:
i) Upon careful review of the Bill, we have resisted every temptation to characterize it as “stupid” like several members of this Committee have aptly characterized it. However, the purported Bill represents the growing arrogance and impunity that has come to characterize the Government under the NRMO regime. Consequently, in considering it during these public hearings and the plenary, your task is not so much to consider a bill that is both empty and devoid of substance but also to have the courage and confidence to cut through this arrogance and impunity.
ii) Secondly, the Free and Fair Elections Campaign has been mobilizing citizens across this country to demand for comprehensive electoral reforms to ensure that a credible electoral management system is established. We have previously delivered the Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections to the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, as well as all the mandated Governmental of Uganda ministries and agencies. All these agencies have chosen to ignore us and present to you a Bill that does not contain any of our views. We are therefore here to, once again, on behalf of thousands of Ugandans who participated in the Free and Fair Elections Campaign process and thousands others that are signing in support of the Compact, to deliver to you our electoral reform proposals.
iii) Our third message is about the place of the 9th Parliament with regard to the reform process. We recognize that this Parliament is, itself, a result of electoral processes that had fundamental defects, which our proposals seek to address. This Parliament is still a vestige of the “Movement Political System” and the proposed reforms are, in a large part, intended to complete the transition to “Multiparty Political System”. That’s why a “National Dialogue” by citizens, in their most diverse formations, as was attempted in the process that generated the “Uganda Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections” is a vital and more legitimate source of getting the genuine views of Ugandans on these fundamental political issues.
iv) Finally, the tenure of the 9th Parliament is coming to an end in less than 10 months. For almost 5 years, the 9th Parliament has either by commission or omission failed to respond to the loud voices of the citizens of Uganda to ensure that the Executive introduces appropriate electoral reforms well in time before the scheduled elections in February 2016. Like the Government has done in 2005 and 2010, electoral reforms are brought late to Parliament and you are stampeded to enact peripheral reforms that do not address the structural problems inherent in our electoral system. We are therefore here to implore you not to be stampeded by the Executive once again and through this Committee, to invite the 9th Parliament to join us in demanding for elections after comprehensive reforms have been put in place.
C. About the Free and Fair Elections Campaign
3. The Free and Fair Elections Campaign (FFE Campaign) is a non-partisan effort by Ugandans Citizens in their various formations: political parties, civil society, religious organizations, professional associations, women’s and youth organizations, pro-democracy pressure groups and eminent Ugandans committed to fight for reforms that will result into the establishment of a credible electoral management system to guarantee free and fair elections in our country.
4. The FFE Campaign is a product of the failure by the Parliament of Uganda to do its fundamental constitutional duty and power to legislate for the good governance of our country as it is commended by article 79 of our Constitution. Like the 7th and the 8th Parliament, the 9th Parliament will go down in the annals of our history as abdicating this duty because of its failure to invest in reforming our electoral laws over its 5 year tenure and then scampering and pleading for time during these last days towards the general elections scheduled for 2016. Mr. Chairman and Members, you very well know that you have been around for 5 years and therefore the apparent stampeding of the reform process is your making and hence unwarranted.
D. The Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections
5. As you may be fully aware, the FFE Campaign started three years ago and has been focused on mobilizing citizens to push both the Executive and Parliament to their job and enact appropriate laws to establish a credible electoral management system for our country. The campaign moved with significant momentum in 2014 when numerous public rallies jointly organized by political leaders and civil society were organized across the country.
6. In the second half of 2014, 14 regional forums on free and fair elections were held in:
ii) West Nile
7. Each of these forums was attended by 200-400 political, religious, business and civic leaders representing a wide cross section of our society. An estimated 4,700 citizens directly participated in these forums while thousands engaged through popular radio talk shows. The FFE Campaign process culminated into the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections, which took place on November 24, 2014. Over 1,300 participants representing political parties, professional and civic organizations, religious leaders and eminent Ugandans attended the National Consultation. Although the National Resistance Movement Organization (NRMO) did not send an official delegation, NRMO leaders (at least 17% of all representation from political parties) from across the country attended and participated fully in the deliberations.
8. The Free and Fair Elections Campaign also took into account fairly comprehensive proposals prepared and submitted by:
i) The Inter-Party Organizations for Dialogue (IPOD)
ii) The Citizens Coalition on Electoral Democracy (CCEDU)
iii) The National Consultative Forum (NCF)
iv) The Electoral Commission (EC), and
v) The Cabinet proposals contained in a matrix published in June 2014.
9. The National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections adopted the Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections containing 17 electoral reform proposals and 1 proposals regarding its implementation. We believe that given the nature of the FFE Campaign process, the Citizens Compact reflects a national consensus on the fundamental reforms needed to create a credible electoral management system in the country. Accordingly, we are asking this Committee to recommend to the plenary to enact comprehensive electoral reforms covering the following:
i) Establishment of a new and independent electoral commission.
ii) Ensuring the integrity of the voting process.
iii) Clearly delineating the roles of security agencies in the electoral process and prohibiting the use of Government trained and political party led militia groups.
iv) Securing the integrity of the campaign process.
v) Addressing and dismantling the current system of patronage.
vi) Separating the state from the current ruling party and developing safeguards to ensure that this does not happen in future.
vii) Prohibiting gerrymandering through the creation of new administrative units and electoral constituencies.
viii) Restoring and securing the freedoms to organize and assemble that are continuously being eroded through legislative and administrative actions.
ix) Reforming the system of selecting presiding officers.
x) Securing the process of processing electoral materials.
xi) Ensuring the integrity of the tallying process.
xii) Securing the independence and boosting the integrity of the judiciary as an arbiter for election disputes.
xiii) Strengthen the internal democracy of political parties.
xiv) Preserving the mandate of the electorate regarding their elected representatives.
xv) Reviewing the representation of special interest groups with a view to ending special representation by the UPDF and workers.
xvi) Establishing a more reliable funding architecture for local governments to enhance their autonomy and capacity to deliver public services.
xvii) Restoring and entrenching presidential term limits.
10. Mr. Chairman and Members, on behalf of the thousands of Ugandans who participated in the public rallies, the regional consultation forums and the National Consultation on Free and Fair Elections, and the thousands of Ugandans that continue to sign up in support of the Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections, we lay this Compact before you as the legitimate expression of growing national consensus on electoral reforms.
E. The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015
11. As we have already stated, the purported Bill represents the highest degree of arrogance and impunity with which Government under the NRMO regime approaches matters of importance to our country. This Bill is both empty and devoid of substance. It ignores every common-sense electoral reform proposal contained in the numerous submissions by the Electoral Commission (EC), the Inter-Party Organizations for Dialogue (IPOD), the Citizens Coalition of Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), the National Consultative Forum (NCF) and the Free and Fair Elections Campaign (FFE Campaign). Indeed, it is unfortunate that parliament has to spend Ugandan taxpayers money to enable you spend valuable time to conduct public hearings on this empty Bill. That is why we have chosen not to address any specific aspects of this purported Bill because we find it unwarranted.
F. Our Call to the 9th Parliament
12. We wish to implore this parliament to do everything possible to resist the current course that the Executive has put you on, to drive our country to yet another cliff. As Members may recall, our country has suffered numerous episodes of violence and conflict in the majority of cases triggered by contested elections. In 1980, the current president took up arms and subjected our country to a protracted military conflict leading to the death of an estimated 500,000 people and the decimation of state and civic institutions and the destruction of our economy. Since the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution, which sought to reset the governance button and return our country to sanity and good governance, the results of the elections held in 1996 and 2011 were highly contested because of disputes over a level playing field, which is rooted in our current electoral system and the absence of an independent electoral commission.
13. We end by reminding you and ourselves that this Committee and the Parliament of Uganda does not legislate for the Executive that gave you the purported Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015. Both the Executive and the Parliament legislate for the Citizens of Ugandan. The Bill before you seeks to disenfranchise us, concentrate power in the office of the President and render this Parliament peripheral in the governance of our country. We therefore implore you to reject the purported bill, use your inherent legislative powers to enact and ensure full implementation of electoral reforms before elections are held. You are our representatives. Listen to us and the sense of reason as contained in the Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections and other reform proposals submitted by various citizens platforms as already stated above. And when the history of this country is written again, it can be put on record that when that historical moment as to whether to move backward or forward, the 9th Parliament chose going to the future against going to the past.
For God and My Country
May 19, 2015