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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let Museveni emulate Ghana and accept the EC reforms

Dear editor,
I think we need to teach the government officials who have got Uganda at heart using different examples elsewhere as to why the EC reforms proposed by the opposition need to be adopted as soon as possible. You never know, they may put the president on spot and ask him to withdraw the reappointment of Dr. Kiggundu as the Electoral Commission(EC) boss, because by doing so, he(Museveni) was giving the opposition 'two fingers in the air' as a response to their recently proposed EC reforms. Now,let me take this opportunity and respond to this issue using the Ghananian experience of 1992 and 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections in comparison with our Uganda.

The 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections returned Uganda to constitutional rule after 10 years of semi-military rule. In Ghana, it was almost a similar experience under Rawlings till when they had the highly disputed 1992 presidential elections.

What the IPC in Uganda has recently proposed in the EC reforms document is almost the same as what was proposed in Ghana by the leading opposition party, the New Patriotic Party(NPP), after the 1992 experience. The NPP had published a report, The Stolen Verdict, in May 1993, listing numerous alleged irregularities.

Unlike in Uganda where we have had so far had two highly rigged elections(2001 and 2006) with two court cases to back it up as evidence, and the Museveni government has not yet adopted the EC reforms, Ghana under Rawlings did not wait for another 'embarrassment' as they adopted the EC reforms immediately after the 1992 elections. Actually, some of the necessary reforms had already been agreed upon before 1992, approved by referendum in April 1992 and came into force in January 1993.

Before the reforms, Ghana's EC was suspected to be as partisan as Kiggundu's EC but the reforms gave it independence and specic powers which I hope we shall also see in Kampala if Museveni withdraws his 'two fingers' from the air.

Just like in Ghana,the EC reforms in Uganda need to focus on the voters' register because an inaccurate one leads to a lot of irregulaties, among which includes: under- age voting, stuffing ballot boxes and other ways of inflating the government's vote. In Ghana, the EC compiled a new voters' register in October 1995, with the registration exercise being monitored by party agents, and with the lists subsequently being exhibited at registration centres for examination by voters and parties. This yielded a register of 9.23 million names. It then conducted a supplementary registration exercise in August 1996 for those who had in the meantime reached the voting age of 18 or who, for some good reason, had been unable to register in 1995.

The present Kiggundu EC does not appear to be independent of the authorities in power as it is president Museveni that directly appoints it. In Ghana,the Fourth Republic constitution and the Electoral Commission Act of 1993 contained explicit provisions designed to secure the independence and autonomy of the new Electoral Commission. First, it was specifically not to be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority. Second, its seven members were to enjoy security of tenure of office: once appointed, they could not be dismissed except for reasons of infirmity or insanity, as confirmed by an independent medical board. Third, the EC's expenses were to be charged directly on the Consolidated Fund. The procedure for the appointment of its members admittedly allowed for a significant degree of presidential influence. They were appointed by the President on the advice of the Council of State—a body of eminent citizens, partly elected and partly appointed, to advise the President and other state institutions in the discharge of their functions.

The Ghana EC satisfied another request of the opposition parties by providing all registered voters with voter identity cards; though, owing to inadequate funding, only voters in the ten regional capitals and ten selected rural constituencies received photo identity cards, the rest being thumb printed.

Party agents were also to witness the counting of votes and their collation at constituency centres, and were to countersign the results forms at each stage. Only after the constituency Returning Officer had publicly announced the results and posted a copy of the results at a conspicuous place were they to be sent to the District Electoral Officer for onward transmission to the Regional Electoral Officer and then to EC headquarters. This provided a safeguard against the manipulation of figures at EC headquarters .

Unlike the 1992 rigged elections, the opposition candidates in Ghana who were defeated, formally conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, J. J. Rawlings. Let us also hope that president Museveni will accept the proposed EC reforms and let the opposition congratulate him in 2011 if he wins fairly.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba

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