By Moses Mulondo
Heavy fines for electoral offenders.
POLITICIANS found guilty of cheating in elections will be sent to prison for up to two years or made to pay heavy fines if a new proposal by the Electoral Commission (EC) becomes a law.
According to a document entailing its proposals, the commission also wanted the convicted politicians to be barred from standing for elections for five years.
The commission also wants the period to declare results to be extended to one week from 48 hours after elections. Though opposition parties oppose the proposal, the commission says it is difficult to secure securing the results from all returning officers within 48 hours.
Stating that voter education has always been inadequate, the EC wants a law reform that will require the national media to allocate time and space for registered political parties and organisations to periodically conduct voter education programmes.
The Commission also wants the new law to allow registration of people who are expected to attain voting age by polling date even if they are not 18 years old by the close of registration. Currently the Electoral Commission Act doesnâ€™t provide for provisional registration of a person who would have attained the voting age by polling day.
The EC further wants the tenure of commissioners from the present seven years to a permanent tenure similar to that of judges. â€œThis will protect and guarantee the independence of the commission,â€ the EC document reads.
In a situation where a voter has lost his card, the EC recommends that such a person reports to the Police and pays a replacement fee before getting a new one.
The other EC recommendations include banning of fundraisings, donations and similar activities by candidates. They also want the commission exempted from liability where a person without the necessary academic qualification is nominated. In addition, they want the period for displaying voter registration to be reduced to 15 from 21 days.
The EC chairman Dr. Badru Kiggundu wants the Parliament to make these amendments at least one year before the next presidential and parliamentary elections in mid 2011.
Parallel to the Electoral Commission proposals, the main opposition parties are proposing another set of amendments.
In order to come up with a common position, the inter-party cooperation involving, Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda Peopleâ€™s Congress, Conservative Party and Justice, Education, Economic Revitalisation, Moral Integrity and African Unity, has created a joint legal committee to study and make recommendations on the necessary electoral reforms in Uganda.
The UPC secretary general, Peter Walubiri, who is part of the committee, said the law should be amended so that the sitting president does not appoint the electoral commissioners. â€œWe also want the composition of the Electoral Commission to be representative of all political groups. This will enable the commission to be independent,â€ Walubiri argues.
But the NRM deputy spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, opposed the proposal of having different political groups represented on the EC.
â€œWe shall not allow that to happen. We do not want the EC to turn into a political institution like the parliament.
Provided people can appeal to courts of law in case of any irregularities, there is no cause for worry,â€ Opondo argued.
The opposition coalition also wants the electoral law to be amended so that the EC is given power to disqualify candidates involved in rigging or other election malpractices, for at least seven years.
Forum for Democratic Change leader Dr. Kizza Besigye wants the Commission to be overhauled and a new one agreed upon by all stakeholders to be put in place.
â€œWe want a non-partisan and independent Electoral Commission in which all of us can have confidence.â€
Besigye also wants the law to bar the military from the electoral process and from politics.
â€œThere is no justification for the army to have representatives in a multiparty parliament. Army officers are supposed to be non-partisan, yet here, army MPs are sitting on the NRM side in the Parliament,â€ Besigye argues.
Makerere University senior Political Science lecturer, Aaron Mukwaya, said the military should be kept out of the electoral process.
Mukwaya also thinks that free and fair elections will not be possible in Uganda until presidential term limits are re-instated.
He urged President Yoweri
Museveni to spearhead the process of amending electoral laws and restructuring the Electoral Commission to ensure free and fair elections because it is the prime reason he went to the bush.
He, however, concluded that â€œhaving free and fair elections requires more than the necessary reforms. It is a broad spectrum of several requirements including good will and commitment on those in power to see that democracy blossoms.â€
â€œAs a token of honour to the Ugandans who perished in the Luweero war, Museveni ought to allow changes that will enable Uganda become a role model nation in organising free and fair elections,â€ Mukwaya suggests.
Former presidential candidate and Peopleâ€™s Development Party president Abed Bwanika wants national identity cards to be issued for Uganda citizens above 18 years so that they use them in voting in the next general elections.
â€œWe have many foreigners from Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and other countries who participate in our national elections. We need to bring this to an end through the national identity cards,â€ Bwanika argued.
Since campaigns for the next general elections will kick off next year, this implies that parliament has only this year to debate and decide on the above proposed electoral law amendments. Because of the controversy nature of some of them, the amendments ignite longer sharp debates that may delay the exercise.
The speaker of Parliament,
Edward Ssekandi, told Saturday Vision that a revision of electoral laws was long overdue. He, however, said the Parliament would have to wait for the justice ministry to present a bill to that effect. â€œThe ministry of justice and constitutional affairs has to speed up the drafting of the bill.â€
The state minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Fred Ruhindi, said his ministry had embarked on the process for drafting the bill.
He said they have set up a taskforce drawn from the Uganda Law Reform Commission, Electoral Commission and Public Prosecution to study the needed reforms and make a report out of which a draft bill will be made.
â€œLegislation is a long process, but we want to ensure all the necessary reforms are made by the end of 2010. We do not want to fumble towards the elections,â€ he said.
ECâ€™s key proposals
Period of declaration of results should be increased from 48 hours to a week.
Media houses should allocate free space for civic education.
Tenure of the electoral commissioners should be raised from seven years to permanent to give them confidence and independence.