Civil society want election reforms implemented

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Mr Crispin Kaheru Coordinator, CCEDU

By Our reporter

KAMPALA. Civil society has written to President Yoweri Museveni to ensure that recommended election reforms are implemented.  According to Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe, senior communication and advocacy manager, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) the open Letter to the President highlights three key challenges that have afflicted Uganda’s elections in the recent past.

“Monetization  and corruption, integrity of the national voters register and violence during elections.  With barely two years left to the 2021 general elections, it is critical that as a country, we re-activate indigenous spaces (ebimeeza, barazas, kacoke madit, cokere adit) for sustained strategic dialogues on issues of concern, shared values, and possible solutions,” she said in a statement issued January, 23rd, 2018.

 

 

18th January 2019

 

H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

President of the Republic of Uganda

Office of the President

Kampala

UGANDA

CCEDU LETTER TO H.E THE PRESIDENT OF UGANDA

Your Excellency,

Congratulations on completing the year, 2018.  This letter is in line with our tradition of writing to you at the beginning of every year.  In our letter to you dated 19th February, 2018, we implored you to take action on two (2) major issues: 1) establishing an independent Constitution review process whose findings and recommendations would be implemented before any subsequent national electoral exercise; and 2) launching a national dialogue process with the purpose of creating a platform for Ugandans, in all their diversity, to agree on shared values, transformative solutions and an integrated development agenda. Your Excellency, we commend your endorsement of the Uganda National Dialogue Process, which you launched on 18th December, 2018, as the country keenly awaits for your efforts to preside over the launch of a credible Constitution Review Commission Process.

Your Excellency, in 2018, Parliamentary, Local Government, as well as administrative units and women council elections were conducted in many parts of the country.  These elections highlighted both old and emerging challenges of electoral justice, good practices and many lessons were learnt.  Mr. President, in this letter for 2019, we highlight three (3) key challenges that have afflicted elections in the recent past, and propose remedies that we believe will require urgent collective action to restore the integrity of elections in Uganda.

  1. Monetization of elections and corruption in electoral processes: Your Excellency, incidents of voter bribery plagued elections in 2018. As the Chairman of the NRM political party, you must be concerned as we are, that your party reported various electoral malpractices, including incidents of voter bribery during the Jinja East Constituency by-election that took place on 15th March, 2018. We laud your public condemnation of voter bribery, and we urge you to translate it into tangible actions, because inability to do so, sends mixed messages. For example, the shillings 5 billion donation to 128 SACCO groups in Rukungiri on Sunday 15th April 2018, weeks prior to the Rukungiri district woman MP by-election, was largely perceived by the public as mobilizing electoral support for your party in the by-election of 31st May 2018 and, therefore, an attempt to influence the voters’ choice using money. In addition, previous elections have been marked by allegations of mismanagement of public resources to fund electoral campaigns.
  2. Your Excellency, it is estimated that the total amount spent by the Electoral Commission, political parties (including NRM and FDC), and candidates (including independent candidates and those from the ‘Go Forward movement’) for the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections was about 3 trillion shillings (2.4 trillion campaign spending, and about 500 billion spent by the Electoral Commission) . This amounts to approximately 12.5% of Uganda’s annual budget. Your Excellency, one of the implications of using (enormous) public resources to finance personal political ambitions is to give the incumbent(s) an unfair advantage over their opponents. It also creates a cycle of corruption, in that public funds are stolen in order to finance political campaigns, and political victors loot the public coffers to accumulate wealth, recoup their illicit investment in the electoral exercise, and maintain influence over the electorate. This trend is a grave danger for Uganda’s electoral process, as it undermines the responsibility of citizens to freely choose their leaders and threatens the essence of our democracy.  Simply put, the influence of money is warping political choice, and thus the willingness of a political candidate to offer money to the electorate in return for a vote has become the determining factor for many electors, as opposed to the candidate’s competency, integrity or vision – a trend that must be urgently reversed.

Your Excellency, as a first step in averting this worrying trend, we must hinge electoral politics on a value-system that denotes competency, integrity and vision. Secondly, it is time to regulate campaign financing by setting and implementing limits for campaign spending for elective positions. The Election Campaign Financing Bill, 2018, among other issues, seeks to regulate campaign financing during elections. We, therefore, call on Your Excellency to translate your public condemnation of voter bribery into action, by supporting the expeditious enactment of this law.

3. Integrity of the national voters register: On a different and related note, during the last electoral cycle, the Electoral Commission, working together with other government agencies, took steps to introduce an automatic voter register for all eligible voters in Uganda. Although largely a success, this has not come without problems. There are still challenges that afflict the national voters register. Complaints of ‘ghost’ voters remain.  As election practitioners, we are aware that some of the glitches could be technical, arising from how the national voters register is managed – especially after the passing of the Registration of Persons Act, 2015.

Your Excellency, whereas the public is keen on registering for purposes of obtaining a national Identification card (ID), there is not the same enthusiasm to register deaths – when they occur. Equally, there is not the same fervor to deregister voters who are no longer eligible such as persons who have relinquished Ugandan citizenship. This potentially leaves ‘ghosts’ on the register. While we can neither confirm nor contradict the allegations of ‘ghost voters’ in the 15th March 2018 Jinja East Constituency by-election, we are aware of the complexities that arise from streamlining the electoral roll with the National Identification Register.

Your Excellency, in August 2018 when you expressed concern about ‘ghosts’ on the national voters roll, the Electoral Commission instituted a technical committee to investigate your discontent with the integrity of the national voters register.  In the spirit of partnership with the Electoral Commission, we will be reaching out to enquire more on this issue and would be grateful if you could share with us any findings that were brought to your attention and your views on how Government can support efforts by the Electoral Commission to address this sensitive and critical question.

It would be equally useful to share the committee’s findings with the relevant election stakeholders to enable a participatory solution-finding exercise. As CCEDU, we are profoundly interested in supporting credible processes intended to genuinely clean the national voters register and help create an enabling environment for citizen participation in our democracy.

Your Excellency, as a matter of emphasis, we stress that, in order to rid the voters register of any ineligible voters, the Electoral Commission and the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) need to collaborate with the wanainchi, especially with regard to publicizing on-going citizen registration exercises, alongside articulating the importance of the registration of deaths and of persons who have left the country or denounced Ugandan citizenship. Citizen vigilance from village to national level will be central in framing a clean and credible national voters register. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology can also play a proactive role in making e-government platforms available to increase awareness among citizens about this important exercise. The government will have to encourage open and meaningful support from local leaders, citizens and civil society in this regard. Together we can address this.

  1. Violence during elections: Your Excellency, a reflection on the history of elections in Uganda indicates an unabated trend of violence. In the past, electoral violence has been a culmination of discontent, frustration and disgruntlement among sections of the electorate and some political actors. Last year, Uganda witnessed hostile political campaigns in Bugiri, and more especially Arua, and this hostility reverberated across the country and beyond. Like you have rightly noted in the recent past, young people have been exploited to foment violence during electoral periods. We must acknowledge the context that makes this manipulation possible. Among the commonly cited causes of electoral violence is the disquiet among the youth occasioned by their economic plight, as well as severe social pressures and lack of opportunities. During election time, the diverse causes of discontent among the youth, coupled with the high levels of mistrust between the citizens and government; increasing levels of intolerance among political actors and the local population; actions of militia groups; as well as state-security-led intimidation, have triggered violent actions.

Your Excellency, when politicians exploit social schisms such as hate language, intimidation and threats to secure electoral advantage, the inevitable outcome is conflict and violence in what would otherwise be peaceful political processes.

Your Excellency, with specific regard to last year’s election violence, we invite you to support an impartial, transparent and conclusive inquiry into the cause of the violence, including the allegations of stoning the presidential motorcade during the Arua by-election.

Our shared commitment to peace and prosperity in our nation needs to be supported by transparency and the rule of law. Completing investigations and bringing to book all culprits, including those security officials who unlawfully tortured and killed Ugandans in the melee that ensued is critical for us as a society to learn from this episode and do better going forward.

With barely two years left to the 2021 general elections, it is critical that as a country, we (re)-activate indigenous spaces (ebimeeza, barazas, kacoke madit, cokere adit) for sustained strategic dialogues on issues of concern, shared values, and possible solutions. These indigenous public platforms can enable us to share alternative opinions, support fact-finding and healing, and enable every Ugandan to play a constructive role in building trust and confidence in our democratic and development path.

Your Excellency, this is also the time to activate an effective framework for continued civic education alongside a mechanism to track, analyse, document and respond to potential triggers of violence.  CCEDU strongly believes that locally rooted solutions will provide acceptable, homegrown, and timely actions, as well as concrete follow up and feedback mechanisms to the emerging and old challenges that fuel electoral violence, thereby guaranteeing more effective conflict and violence prevention and/or response.

Your Excellency, in the National Development Plan (NDP II), your Government recognizes that without free and fair political and electoral processes, key developments cannot be achieved. To this end, the NDP II proposes to “enact laws to strengthen credibility of electoral process in Uganda,” and enhance citizen participation in the electoral process.  We hold the view that laws should be matched with practice.  In line with this recommendation, we call upon the Government to urgently begin to enact the necessary electoral reforms and to support practices that promote credible and transparent elections. Implementing the reforms will require the involvement of citizens, Parliament in addition to the Government if we are to create a sustainable transparent electoral process. The sooner we start, the better prepared we will be as a nation to mitigate and overcome any possible risks and threats to our democracy.

Your Excellency, 2019 is an important year in the context of preparing for the next general election according to the Electoral Commission’s strategic plan.  It is therefore our desire and that of many Ugandans that you, as the Fountain of Honour, champion laws and practices that guarantee a level playing field for electoral contestations in Uganda;  support the establishment of a binding code of conduct for political parties with sanctions; a defined framework for the integration of relevant technology in elections; continuous civic education for all citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities; as well as the re-building of public confidence in institutions that are charged with dispensing democracy and good governance. If we are to successfully accelerate our journey towards enhanced prosperity for all, we must make sure that it is done in tandem with a national effort to redefine governance, the rule of law and respect for the rights of all citizens. We believe in a Uganda that can provide an enabling environment for its increasingly youthful population to contribute to sustaining peace, development and trade. We believe in a Uganda informed by a shared value system that can identify and address challenges to peace and development with dignity and respect. We believe in a Uganda that can be an inspiration for the region and the world on a values-based approach to governance, development and security.

Your Excellency, we look forward to your timely and positive response and action on the issues that we have brought to your attention.

Crispin Kaheru

Coordinator, CCEDU

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