Uganda’s seven opposition political parties and several civil society organizations called on Wednesday for demonstrations against the electoral reforms bill the government recently tabled before parliament.
“We will embark on holding a series of public rallies to rally citizens to demand for comprehensive electoral reforms which our country deserves,” said Patricia Munabi, the executive director of the Forum for Women in Democracy, reading from a joint statement.
Munabi urged fellow Ugandans to join the “Free and Fair Elections Campaign Marathon,” scheduled to take place on May 24 in capital Kampala and in selected major towns across the country.
In late April, the Ugandan government sent the Constitutional Amendment Bill to parliament.
The bill seeks to change the name of the country’s Electoral Commission to the “Independent Electoral Commission,” restructure the electoral body, and set the procedures governing the removal of commission members.
According to the bill, the commission shall consist of a chairperson, deputy chairperson and such other members as parliament shall prescribe by law, all of whom shall be appointed by the president with the approval of parliament.
The bill stipulates that the removal of a member of the electoral body shall be referred to a tribunal appointed by the president, who may remove the member if the tribunal so recommends.
It also allows the president to suspend the member in question from performing the functions of his or her office pending the recommendation of the tribunal.
The bill further seeks to raise the retirement age for justices and judges; provide for the Judicial Service Commission to appoint certain judicial staff; provide corporate status for the Inspectorate of Government; and provide for a Salaries and Remuneration Board, among other related matters.
But the proposed legislative changes related to the electoral body remain the most contentious, especially as Uganda gears up for 2016 general elections.
In 2014, the opposition political leaders organized a series of public rallies across the country to consult citizens on the nature of reforms needed to improve the electoral system.
On March 2, Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga received the text of 17 proposed electoral reforms agreed upon by an “Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue.”
The organization is comprised of all of the country’s political parties – including Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) – and the National Consultative Forum of Civil Society Organizations, which was drawn up specifically to negotiate proposed electoral reforms with the government.
Proposals include the establishment of an independent electoral commission – a recommendation all stakeholders have agreed to
“The bill is completely devoid of substance and in all particulars ignores the will of the citizens as expressed in all those proposals,” the opposition said Wednesday.
The bill needs the support of one third of votes in the 386-member assembly, where the ruling NRM has 259 MPs.
As soon as parliament passes the bill, it becomes an Act of Parliament. It is then sent to the president, who signs it into law.
Mugisha Muntu, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda’s largest opposition party, said the protest rallies are basically a response to what he described as the arrogance of President Museveni and the clique that is around him.
“We want to tell the country that we are 35 million people,” he said. “We should not just let one individual have his desire of hanging onto power and running this country like he is running his own home.”
The opposition leaders lamented that since independence, Uganda has never had free and fair election.
“Almost every election has been contested in some cases leading into protracted conflict, violence and consequently the suffering of our people,” they said in their joint statement.
Kiiza Besigye, a political activist who led the 2011 Walk to Walk campaign after losing to President Yoweri Museveni in two consecutive elections, said Uganda “has gone to the brink of destruction because of mismanaging elections.”
He added that Ugandans need to be reminded of how President Museveni came to power.
“He came to power on the corpses of 500,000 dead people who died in war because of rigged elections; many of our young people don’t know the gravity of rigged elections,” claimed Besigye, a retired army officer.
“There must be a clarion call for all citizens to act because unless they act, the kind of abuse of political process will continue,” he warned.
Ofwono Opondo, the government’s spokesperson, said the government does not have any problem with peaceful civic action meant to put pressure on the executive and Parliament.
“[But] it can only push the ruling NRM caucus to meet and harden their stand on the Bill,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Opondo advised the opposition, instead, to submit a written memo to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs that is currently handling the bill.
But the opposition parties remain defiant.
“Our message to all Ugandans is that elections are commanded by our constitution and are non-negotiable,” said Munabi. “We should remain unyielding in our demand that elections should be conducted after reforms.”