Electoral reforms: Did Uganda beat a hasty retreat after criticism?

Saturday August 3 2019

Ugandan lawmakers fight inside parliament in

Ugandan lawmakers fight inside parliament in September 2017 ahead of the debate to change the Constitution to extend the president’s rule. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Questions still linger around the contents of the five electoral reform Bills first tabled in parliament by the government on July 25.

Then after four days of intense criticism of the drafts the government unveiled another set that it said were the genuine draft laws.

On Thursday, Attorney General William Byaruhanga tabled the five Bills in response to recommendations and a subsequent order by the Supreme Court.

The proposed reforms at first caused an uproar among the public, civil society and the political opposition due to the proposal to ban cameras and phones at polling stations and bar independent candidates from forming alliances with political parties. The opposition said the reforms were targeting particular individuals.

Four days later, Mr Byaruhanga and his deputy Mwesigwa Rukutana accused the media and opposition of concocting certain provisions of the Bills and branded the public criticism “very unreasonable.”

“A proposal stopping people from using mobile phones at polling stations is not there. I do not know where it came from. The media should tell the truth,” Mr Byaruhanga said.


Others that he said were not in his initial reforms were the provision of soldiers and police voting five days earlier and failure to address the recommendations by the Supreme Court.

Critics, however, say that the AG had enough time to rework the Bills after tabling drafts in a bid to beat the Supreme Court deadline on July 25.

On the day of their tabling, which comprised altering the Order Paper to accommodate their presentation, neither MPs nor journalists had seen them.

This left questions as to whether what was tabled were the actual Bills Mr Byaruhanga released and circulated four days later.


The five Bills that the government presented largely provide for the participation of independent candidates in elections, restrictions on candidates’ sources of funding to finance elections; require the Electoral Commission to designate restricted areas and to provide for a special procedure for voting in these areas.

Under the reforms, a former party member can only stand for Member of Parliament or president as an independent if he/she ceased being a member of the political party 12 months before nomination day and was duly discharged by the party.

The amendments also require candidates to declare to the Electoral Commission, within 14 days after nomination day, the source of funds that they intend to use for financing their election bid.

The amendments also bar candidates from obtaining any assistance from any foreign actors who have demonstrated an intention to overthrow the government of Uganda, or endanger its security.

Culprits under this clause will be charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, and forfeit the money to the state.

The reforms also remove the provision of having polling material delivered within 48 hours before polling day and changes it to any time before polling day.

It should be noted that during the last general election, election materials reached some areas, mostly opposition strongholds, several hours after the official start of voting.

Wilfried Niwagaba, the shadow AG on Thursday also requested parliament to grant him leave to introduce a private member’s Bill that contains the opposition’s proposed electoral reforms.

Mr Niwagaba is an independent MP representing Ndorwa County East constituency.

In its proposed reforms, the opposition seeks to reinstate presidential term limits which were scrapped from the constitution in 2005; to replace the office of vice president with the office of deputy president; to repeal the office of prime minister and to restrict the number of Cabinet ministers and state ministers.