Behind the Scenes At Electoral Reforms Conference

Day two of the national consultation conference on free and fair elections ended at Hotel Africana last evening, with delegates expressing a mixture of fears and hopes about an event that drew thousands.

With the leadership of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) staying away, some delegates feared that discussions about the need for electoral reforms would not gain any traction as long as the ruling party maintains an ambivalent posture. But others argued that with or without the ruling party, the conference was not in vain.

“At least people have become aware of the reforms,” said Sheila Kawamara, a civil society activist and one of the brains behind the meeting. “They know that elections cannot be free and fair without certain measures. That, for us, is a bonus.”

The meeting brought together people from the civil society, local governments, political parties, donors, diplomatic community and the media. This eclectic mix of people from various backgrounds (civil society and politics) meant that there would be many varied and – at times – conflicting ideas on how the electoral reform train, which traversed the country ahead of the conference, could move forward.

Yet the arrangement also created some bit of inertia as delegates haggled and went back and forth on several matters.

Control:

In the conference halls and outside, a silent struggle ensued between the political actors and civil society activists over who should control the electoral reform process. At times one got the feeling that a well-intentioned meeting was losing focus. Some speakers spent more time drumming up their political credentials as opposed to dealing with the topic at hand.

Dr Kizza Besigye, a three-time presidential candidate and the founding president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and Miria Matembe, the former minister for Ethics and Integrity, were the most sought-out politicians – attracting countless handshakes and camera flashes. Meanwhile, Bishop Zac Niringiye and other organisers paced up and down seeing to this or that.

For old friends such as Beti Kamya, formerly in FDC and now president of Uganda Federal Alliance, and FDC Vice-President Salaamu Musumba, this was an opportunity to talk again. Donors who supported this meeting and other related activities included the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The proposal:

Sources within the donor community told The Observer on Monday that they had sunk at least $150,000 into the reform effort, with additional funding coming from the Uganda National NGO Forum, the conveners of the meeting. Among others, delegates proposed that an incumbent president seeking re-election should serve hisher term to the end and hand over to a transitional government led by the chief justice or any other authority.

This, the delegates argued, would create a level field unlike today where the incumbent enjoys state resources while campaigning. The reformists also want public servants to resign their positions at least six months before nomination as opposed to the constitutional 90 days.

Other proposals include one term of seven years for commissioners of the Electoral Commission as well as representation of political parties on the commission. There is a call for a biometric voters’ register to be developed and adopted for use at all levels, and the establishment of an independent salaries and remuneration board with powers to determine salaries for public servants, including political leaders such as the president and cabinet ministers.

Sam Rwakoojo, the secretary of the Electoral Commission, told The Observer yesterday they were not convinced by the meeting’s agenda.

“We did not want to be party to a meeting where we become targets of unfair criticism,” he said.

The final proposals from the conference are expected to be delivered to Parliament for consideration. However, even as the conference room buzzed with activity, voices of doubt lurked in the crowd about the possible impact such a meeting can have.

“We have been there before. Remember before the 2011 elections we tabled reforms but government ignored us. What makes you think that this time the same government will hear our cries?” said a female MP, who requested for anonymity for fear of being misunderstood.

The meeting is expected to be closed today by Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament.

Source : The Observer

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