Reform Activists Defy NRM Boycott

FDC, UPC, DP, UFA, PDP, CP and SDP in show of unity

The seat reserved for the leader of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) was conspicuously vacant even on the second day of the national consultation on electoral reforms.

However, the boycott by the ruling party did little to dull the mood at the convention as all prominent opposition figures and civil society activists gathered to articulate the reform proposals they say Uganda needs before it can hold free and fair elections.

At the start of the conference on Monday, the group of eminent Ugandans who convened the conference preached unity, imploring all in attendance to “shed-off your political party colours and other affiliations and approach this debate as Ugandans who are interested in a better country.”

In a speech read by Frances Akello, one of the first post-independence parliamentarians, the eminent persons said: “As a country, we have a lot more to gain through unity than through amplifying the artificial divisions that divide us as a people – along political, religious and tribal lines.”

Throughout the conference, opposition figures mingled freely and shared the platform, showing a growing harmony and cohesive sense of purpose that has not been evident in the recent past. Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) president, Olara Otunnu, received a standing ovation after a speech in which he explained that the reforms would not deliver Uganda to the Promised Land merely by offering a level playing field that could lead to a change of government.

“Regime change is not an end in itself. It is a means to a greater end which is to rebuild and transform our society,” said Otunnu, a former United Nations diplomat.

Three-time presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, castigated the NRM for what he described as its unwillingness to take part in the discussions on the electoral reforms that would allow free and fair elections. He added that it is not just the leadership of NRM that is culpable, but also individuals within the party such as MPs.

“The MPs that were invited and never responded are a byproduct of the illegalities in the electoral process,icirc said the FDC founding president. igraveThe citizens must take it upon themselves to deliver the change they want.”

NRM Invited:

Conference organisers said they invited President Museveni to open the convention in order to involve the ruling NRM and its leaders in an event largely spearheaded by civil society leaders.

“All parties that have elected leaders up to LC-III level were invited to send delegates but there has not been a response from NRM. They are not formally here,” Bishop Zac Niringiye, the retired Kampala assistant bishop, told The Observer.

However, as the convention opened at 8am on Monday, there was no sign of the UPDF Special Forces Command at Hotel Africana, an early sign that the president was unlikely to turn up.

“Our contacts [in government] kept telling us that he was still considering it [the invitation] until Sunday evening when it died out,” said Godber Tumushabe, the head of secretariat of the national consultation on free and fair elections.

On Saturday, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre and NRM deputy spokesman, Ofwono Opondo, told The Observer, that the ruling party “does not conduct business through civil society organisations.”

According to Richard Ssewakiryanga, executive director of the Uganda National NGO Forum, the organisers have since September been making frantic efforts to bring the NRM leaders on board. They spoke to Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of the Presidency, the NRM caucus vice chairman David Bahati, and Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba.

Lumumba admitted having been contacted by the conference organisers but said she was not given a timeframe within which they wanted to meet the caucus. Lumumba also says that she was the one who was contacted to deliver Museveni’s invitation.

“I last interacted with the president [when] we came back from Rome. It is this [Tuesday] morning that he called and told me that he was travelling to Nakaseke,”she said.

She blamed the organisers for ignoring her aice to deal with the acting NRM secretary general Dorothy Hyuha on NRM’s participation.

Key absentee:

With the NRM leadership nowhere to be seen at the conference, some delegates questioned the wisdom of conducting the event without the party in the driving seat.

Deborah Nabadda, the Sembabule deputy speaker, said: “We said that this forum is about the future of Uganda, but how can we discuss such a key issue in the absence of some key players?

“On the programme, I see there was time for the president. Why isn’t he here?” Nabadda probed. “The other key player is [the Inspector General of Police] Kale Kayihura. I doniacutet see him around, and all the NRM MPs. How sure are we that what we are discussing here will be implemented?”

As the conference enters its third day, those questions will linger in the minds of many even as they prepare the recommendations that they hope to present to the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Kahinda Otafiire, before the November 30 deadline for submitting electoral reform proposals.

What next?

Organisers hope to present the outcomes of the three-day consultation dialogue to Parliament for consideration, awaiting the government’s own proposals. The leader of opposition in Parliament (LOP) Wafula Oguttu said they would be tabled as a private memberiacutes bill if government is not enthusiastic about them.

“We have been clear that this process is not about attacking anybody but building a critical mass of people that understand the critical issues for reform,” Ssewakiryanga told The Observer.

Source : The Observer

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