Op-ed – Even with a new EC, electoral reforms are still valid

By Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe

The list of Electoral Commission appointees that President Yoweri Museveni presented to the Speaker of Parliament are scheduled for vetting by the House, hopefully this week.

The president recently appointed Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, Hajjati Aisha Lubega, Stephen Tashobya, George Piwang, Peter Emorut and Mustapha Ssebaggala Kigozi to replace the Badru Kiggundu-led team whose term at the Electoral Commission expired on 17 November 2016.

I hope the Parliament plays it role with utmost seriousness, taking into consideration that Article 60 (2) of the Constitution which states that: “Members of the commission shall be persons of high moral character, proven integrity and who possess considerable experience and demonstrated competence in the conduct of public affairs.”

I therefore implore Parliament to especially consider the question of experience in handling public matters of the nominated commissioners because it has direct bearing on the offices the appointees will assume.

That said, a serious vetting process cannot wish away the systemic problems the electoral commission face such as weak electoral laws, limited funding for the commission to execute its mandate, and the limited ability to act independently of the state machinery.

The problem of the Electoral Commission is not the individuals who serve in it, but the institutional weakness which can work against even the best candidates.

To address these systemic and institutional challenges, the Citizen’s Coalition For Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) came up with a draft Bill on the Electoral Commission in May 2014, where the following suggestions were made; amend Article 60 of the Constitution with the view of allowing for a more detailed process of identifying and selecting people who serve as electoral commissioners rather than leave it to the President alone.

Further, CCEDU suggested that the Judicial Service Commission be given the power to spearhead the process of selecting electoral commissioners. Sadly, CCEDU’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

However, CCEDU retaliates its earlier position and argues that despite having named a new Commission, an electoral process involving several players – the public, political parties, civil society, the media, and institutions of government – should be made clear to garner confidence in the Electoral Commission. This can be done by listening to, and putting into consideration, the views of these players.

Each time an election takes place in Uganda, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of many Ugandans. Often times, after an election, the government resorts to use of the military and the police to contain the divergent population.  Even though it is too late to continue to argue for a more consultative process in appointing commissioners, it is not yet too late for the President to reconsider the following issues as a way of strengthening the new commission:

First, President Museveni should accept electoral reforms on amending the electoral law to empower the Commission to impound vehicles and other state resources from those in government but seeking a re-election. The reform should also empower the commission to direct the Police to arrest anyone who contravenes electoral laws during electoral processes.

Secondly, establish an elections administration tribunal to review the decisions of the Commission in all matters in the electoral process. From demarcation of constituencies, registration of voters, nomination of candidates, campaigns, polling and post polling activities.

Thirdly, the President should also consider increasing funding to the Electoral Commission to allow for timely training of electoral officials and support staff who work in electoral processes.

Ms. Ahimbisibwe is the Communications and Advocacy Manager Citizens’ Coalition for electoral Democracy in Uganda.