Government is expected this morning to unveil a number of amendments to the current electoral laws, including a change which, if adopted, will remove the requirement for a presidential candidate to campaign in each of the 112 districts.
The changes also include proposals to stop voting at 4pm, cutting back election day by one hour. It is also proposed that the amount of public money given to presidential aspirants is increased from the current Shs20 million to Shs50 million.
At the same time, mandatory nomination fees to be paid by presidential candidates will go up from Shs8 million to Shs20m to reflect the changes in the economy.
The Electoral Commission (EC) spokesperson, Mr Jotham Taremwa, yesterday said the “EC would have no problem with those proposals” which, on the face of it, would give Electoral Commission more time to count ballots, tally results, fill the required forms and transmit them to the EC before dark.
The government also wants the requirement for polling officials to dip the thumb of a person who has cast a ballot into indelible ink to indicate that the person has voted reviewed.
The Bill proposes that due to aances in technology, ink should be applied to the thumb without necessarily dipping the thumb into ink.
However, Mr Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality) and other Opposition leaders yesterday voiced concerns that this would aid vote rigging [through multiple voting] and demanded that the status-quo is maintained.
Parliament has been recalled from recess and sits today to consider these proposals contained in the draft electoral Bills: The Presidential Elections (Amendments) Bill, 2015, The Parliamentary Elections (Amendments) Bill, 2015, and The Electoral Commission (Amendments) Bill, 2015.
According to the Order Paper issued by the Clerk to Parliament yesterday, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Kahinda Otafiire is expected to presents the Bills.
Sources told Daily Monitor that since there is no time, Cabinet wants Parliament to suspend the rules of procedure and have the Bills approved without going to the committee for further scrutiny.
If this happens, civil society activists, who criticised the government proposal to reduce the voting time as “crazy”, said, suspension of the rules on committee scrutiny would deny the voters and political players, the opportunity to make an input.
Currently, the EC provides Shs20m and a vehicle to every presidential aspirant. So far, 48 people have picked forms for possible nomination.
Justifying the decision to waive the requirement of spending a day in each district, the EC argued that this provision was relevant in 2005 when Uganda had fewer districts.
“The campaign programme of a candidate should not be pegged to appearing in every district, especially where the number of the districts keeps increasing,” the justification reads.
Last month, Parliament approved 23 new districts to come into being in a phased manner. This decision meant that the districts will rise from 112 to 135.
EC also moved to invoke its powers to make special provisions for taking the votes of persons in certain institutions and restricted areas to include medical personnel and persons engaged in electoral activities.
Although the details are still scanty, the anticipated intention is to stop disenfranchising persons who are on duty during the polling period.
Government also wants to define the “deadly weapon” in the law. Whereas Section 43 of the current Act, prohibits carrying of the deadly weapon on the polling day, there is no definition of what amounts to a deadly weapon in the Act.
opposition , civil society SKEPTICAL OF AMENDMENTS
When contacted the Kampala Lord Mayor, Mr Erias Lukwago, one of the voices behind the pro-electoral reform agenda ahead of the 2016 polls, reacted with consternation.
“If they rejected our proposed electoral reforms entailed in the [Citizens] Compact on spurious grounds of want of adequate time, how then do they expect Parliament, currently in recess, to deliberate and pass those amendments within these few remaining days to nominations?” Mr Lukwago asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this despotic regime made all sorts of machinations to tinker with the electoral laws with the sole purpose of curtailing free and fair electoral contest,” he added.
Mr Crispy Kaheru of Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, said: “Other countries are seeking to increase voting time and we in Uganda are plotting to reduce the time.” Mr Kaheru said this could further hurt already low voter turn-out rates.