Uganda: Absent Genuine Reforms For Independent Election, Opposition Must Boycott Vote

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This election poster for Gen. Museveni was photographed at the Central Police Station in Kampala -- police are Museveni's personal militia

[Uganda: Elections 2016]

Gen. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s long-time dictator, thanks to his successful elections’ rigging, enjoys a two-thirds majority in Uganda’s Parliament.

Any law Gen. Museveni desires is routinely rubber-stamped by his parliament which is effectively a wing of his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) backed by the military powers of the National Resistance Army (NRA) and since 2005, re-named Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF).

In that context, at five-year intervals, Gen. Museveni "wins" elections, not because he is popular; he has the undivided backing of the NRA/UPDF, the Intelligences Services and the Police.

The roles of the voters or the electorates are to provide legal and political cover for the Museveni dictatorship. Thus, a possibility of adopting legislation on electoral reforms in a format Gen. Museveni desires is real. The only issue however, is whether the Constitution Amendment Bill 2015, once adopted, shall provide for, and guarantee, free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016 and premised on a level-playing field for all contestants.

Currently, the NRM government and Opposition leaders are talking at each other.  There is no agreement on the general framework for neither the reform nor its scope.

The government, acting as a wing of the NRA/NRM, recently submitted its proposals through Uganda’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Gen. Severino Kahinda Otafire, to the Legal and Parliamentary Committee, a body that is handling the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015.

Introducing the Bill before the Committee, Gen. Otafire lied that the constitutional proposal was being studied by Uganda Law Reform Commission, when in fact it was not as reported in The Daily Monitor, 21 May 2015. Thus, like Gen. Museveni who has since 1986 lied to Ugandans without keeping his promises, Gen. Otafire is now deceiving Ugandans in breach of a legal process required in the amendment of the 1995 Uganda Constitution.

The NRM proposals, as presented by Gen. Otafire, defend the antiquated and undemocratic representation of NRA/UPDF soldiers in Parliament. And, besides inserting the word "independent" before "Electoral Commission", the proposals retains all current flaws of the Electoral Commission; the same flaws that are regularly abused by Gen. Museveni and utilized to rig elections.

This is purely Orwellian New-Speak.

It is also significant that Gen. Otafire who has no legal background, is the man Gen. Museveni chose to assign responsibility on constitutional matters as well as administration of justice in Uganda. Viewed in that context, it is not surprising that Gen. Otafire recommended a further entrenchment of the already extensive powers enjoyed by Gen. Museveni in the appointment and dismissal of the chairman and members of the Electoral Commission.

Overall, Gen. Otafire is committed to retaining the undemocratic status quo which, among other things, permits Gen. Museveni to continue to appoint additional Members of Parliament under the cover of ministerial appointments, and therefore flooding Parliament with his otherwise unelected NRM party cadres. No meaningful reform can take place under the watch of Justice Minister Gen. Otafire.

Opposition leaders, Uganda Law Society (ULS) and other civil society organizations correctly described the NRA/NRM proposed constitutional amendments as a "symbolism" of the highest level of arrogance and impunity characterizing the ruling party. The critics of the government proposal described it as empty and devoid of substance. However, in presenting its proposal, Opposition leaders, ULS and civil society, while making excellent suggestions, failed to address structural flaws inherent in the Uganda State as re-constituted in 1986. Instead, the Opposition focused on peripheral issues.

The Ugandan State is run by Gen. Museveni as a personal fiefdom. In exercising effective control over the Ugandan State, Gen. Museveni relies on the NRA/UPDF, Para-military organizations, the Intelligence Services and the Police. This "deep" State supervises over the "official" state as represented by Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Thus, any attempt at electoral reform that do not address the role of the "deep" militarized State, is a hoax and intended to beguile the electorate in falsely believing that the February 2016 parliamentary and presidential elections shall be free and fair. Whatever reform, as presented by the NRA/NRM when adopted by Parliament, shall not substantially address core constitutional and electoral problems as long as Gen. Museveni continues to control the militarized State of Uganda and further retains control over all instruments of violence and torture in Uganda with the right to wage both domestic and foreign wars as he pleases.

Additionally, Opposition leaders neglected to address the role of the Judiciary in adjudicating electoral disputes, particularly the presidential petitions. The two past petitions filed by Dr. Kizza Besigye against Gen. Museveni after the 2001 and 2006 Presidential Elections are eye-openers. The Supreme Court, in both petitions found, as facts, that elections were massively rigged in favor of Gen. Museveni.

The Court went on to rule that the rigging, though massive as was proved by evidence, did not impact on, or influenced, the overall results. This bizarre conclusion was only possible because while not all judges are NRM cadres, a substantial numbers of them, including the Deputy Chief Justice, are card-carrying members of the NRA/NRM. There are also many former ministers in the NRM government who have since been appointed judges and are found at all levels of the judiciary. Absent genuine reform of the Judiciary, Opposition leaders should not expect justice from Gen. Museveni’s judges when challenging results of rigged elections.

Further, Opposition leaders should not expect free and fair elections from Gen. Museveni during a period when he enjoys the benefits of incumbency. Abuse of state resources for political campaign is already the norm in Museveni’s Uganda. It will only intensify during the periods leading to elections in February 2016. Sacks of money shall be thrown at the youth, the unemployed and the unemployable. Elections will have been rigged as early as at the stage of registration of voters. Gen Museveni shall confuse the people further by creating new constituencies --he has already promised to create 36 more.

For free, fair and transparent elections to be held in Uganda, Opposition leaders must demand dissolution of the NRM government and in  its place a Transition government with the sole responsibility to organize and manage parliamentary and presidential elections. Both parliamentary and presidential elections must be held on the same day throughout the country. All presidential candidates may not hold any office in a Transition government. However, any of the presidential candidates who wish to hold position in a Transition government shall forfeit his or her right to contest elections.

The NRA/NRM policy of exclusion negatively impacts the electoral process and particularly on the choice available to the poor and marginalized citizens. With economic resources largely absent in the north-eastern and northern part of Uganda, the poor voters become particularly vulnerable to being manipulated by officials of the Museveni regime or threatened by NRM cadres who are supported by the Museveni-appointed Resident District Commissioners (RDC).

It is therefore necessary that RDC, civil servants and the military be barred from playing any role in the electoral process. In any event, with respect to the military, the primary responsibility of the NRA/UPDF is to protect the State from its foreign enemies and not to threaten civilians to vote for a president as in the past.

The Uganda Police Force (UPF), particularly under the leadership of an NRA cadre, Gen. Kale Kayihura, has exhibited extremely sectarian police brutality in support of the NRM party. Opposition leaders and their supporters are routinely assaulted for no particular reason. Several Opposition members have been hospitalized after Police brutality. For all practical purposes, the UPF functions as an NRM militia. In the absence of Police reforms, the Opposition may as well say farewell to free and fair elections.

All structural changes that are necessary for free and fair elections are of course a bridge too far for Gen. Museveni and his party. What he fears most is a free and fair election. Under his reign, Ugandans shall never exercise the right to free and fair elections.  Even if Gen. Museveni promises to hold free and fair elections, Ugandans must remember he -- is notorious for not keeping his promises.

Overall, it is necessary for the Opposition to consider taking actions outside Gen. Museveni’'s electoral process.

Civil disobedience, amongst other options, must be adopted by the Opposition to ensure that absent genuine constitutional and electoral reforms, the February 2016 parliamentary and presidential elections are boycotted and prevented from taking place by all means necessary.


Obote-Odora is an international lawyer and legal consultant 

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