Amendments to electoral laws tabled this past week have caused a storm within Uganda’s opposition and civil society, with many questioning the government’s willingness to conduct free and fair elections in 2021.
Attorney General William Byaruhanga tabled the amendments, contained in five bills, before Parliament on Thursday. The supreme court on June 25 ordered the government to table the reforms before parliament within a month.
Delivering the verdict on the presidential election petition filed by former candidate Amama Mbabazi against President Yoweri Museveni in 2016, the supreme court said electoral reforms would improve the running of the 2021 general elections and beyond.
But the amendments that the government tabled are different from those recommended by the court and also from those that the opposition and civil society have for over a decade been pushing for.
The proposed amendments contain provisions that include prohibiting cameras and mobile phones from polling stations, banning political parties from having links with pressure groups, and banning independent presidential candidates from seeking alliances with political parties.
Bobi Wine's camp
On Wednesday, musician and legislator Robert Kyagulanyi, who leads the now influential People Power pressure group, officially announced his intention to stand against President Museveni in 2021. Mr Kyagulanyi has been building bridges with various opposition political parties.
This week, Mr Kyagulanyi named a nationwide task force with noticeable faces from the ruling party, the opposition and fellow musicians. The Kyagulanyi camp claims some of the proposals were crafted to cripple his mobilisation.
People Power spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi said the government’s choice of electoral reforms is evidence that what the group is doing is effective, and they would continue forming alliances with political parties.
“We are going to keep our foot on the pedal until 2021. President Museveni and his government are extremely fearful of us and the people of Uganda who badly need change and it is evident,” Mr Ssenyonyi said.
Other provisions include barring of candidates from running as independents if they have lost in the party primaries; party members can only run as independents at least one year after quitting their party with written proof; and that declaration of presidential and parliamentary results will no longer be general but by only five people.
The proposed amendments also provide for security personnel to be allowed to vote at least five days to the general polling date.
The issues the supreme court recommended reforms on included banning public officers from campaigns, increased time frame for petitions and holding of fresh elections, donations during campaigns, involvement of public officers in campaigns, an enabling law for use of technology, giving oral evidence during election petitions and unequal use of state owned media.
The Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) rejected the proposals.
“We won’t accept unpopular, non-progressive and individual centred amendments,” CCEDU co-ordinator Crispin Kaheru said on Twitter.
“They are bad bills that don’t address the challenges of our electoral laws. They are aimed at entrenching electoral malpractices and rigging of elections,” said Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi.
“What they are trying to do is make it difficult for opposition to mobilise and protect the ballot on polling day,” said Forum for Democratic Change spokesman Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda.