By Frank Tumwebaze
The Opposition scenes witnessed by Ugandans on the Kampala streets in the last few days and their running battles with police are not just about the so called “electoral reforms” as they would want us to believe. It’s something they have been rehearsing for some time to cover up their own inabilities of failing to win new political ground and therefore divert attention from the inevitable defeat that awaits them come 2016. The chorus for “electoral reforms” therefore, is the perfect scapegoat they can find. This must be well understood by all of us.
Frank Tumwebaze with his boss President Yoweri Museveni
Politics like any other venture requires hard work and not just mere posturing. You cannot win an election that you have not mobilized for. Yet one critical component of successful mobilization is the ability of one’s message to resonate well with those you are courting and aspiring to lead. Unfortunately, Uganda’s opposition script has for long been reading differently. Trading in emotions as opposed to ideas has been their known ideology. Even when Gen Muntu recently attempted to craft a document supported by some known partisan elements in the civil society, as their party’s policy agenda, the likes of Besigye rubbished it and it has since been shelved. No more talk about or reference to it. Their mistaken and false belief however is that by spending all their time on the streets, making scenes and ratcheting up chaos in the full glare of media cameras, they will induce an instant and spontaneous wave allover the country and turn the political tide in their favor. Far from the truth. Ugandans aren’t that gullible not to discern all this melodrama of theirs.
We have less than a year to the next election. There is no doubt, majority Ugandans are looking forward to an exciting political season. That moment again, after five years, when they get to renew their social and political contract with their leaders. Indeed the political temperatures in different constituencies are on the rise. If the just-concluded voter registration and display exercise, which had to be postponed twice because of the overwhelming number turn- out, is anything to go by, then there is no doubt that Ugandans cannot wait to exercise their democratic right come February 2016. That huge turn out further speaks volumes about the confidence the citizenry have in the electoral process contrary to the assertions of Dr Besigye and his belligerent colleagues.
It therefore baffles any right-thinking members of society that while many serious political actors are using this period to make their case before the electorate, explaining why they should be given the chance to lead, a small section of the opposition has resorted to their old (and failed) tricks of trying to cause unrest in the city centre under the false hope that they can derail the election process.
Unsurprisingly, former FDC leader Dr Kiiza Besigye and his protégé Erias Lukwago, the impeached Lord Mayor, cheered on by a small fraction of opposition politicians, are again at the centre of this tragicomedy even when their previous attempts have failed miserably. “Beaten once, twice shy”, as the English say, could be a good piece of counsel for them.
In the past weeks, the police have had to restrain them from conducting demonstrations in the city centre so as not to paralyze and disrupt the trade order. The Preventive actions of the police are not only lawful but in order and justified. Society and businesses must be protected from the reckless and irresponsible actions of these self seeking politicians that never care about the losses they occasion to the businesses of city traders. It’s an act of extreme injustice and unfairness on the part of these political actors to target central business environments in cities and towns without being sensitive to the people earning a living in those trading spaces they parade their hired goons on, as they use the video clips of those encounters to source and fundraise for their own political ambitions. It’s a big shame!
One wonders why they can’t afford to go to public squares and assemblies like kololo airstrip, nambole etc and demonstrate there peacefully. The answer however is simple and clear. No one will follow them there. Experience has proved this. For example in the past few weeks, and in trying to shore up his support upcountry, Dr Besigye funded an exercise of allegedly giving out free mama kits to expectant mothers. The authorities allowed him to go about his first ever activity of “philanthropy” unhindered which quickly proved to him how disconnected he was with the ordinary masses. He quickly abandoned it. He lacked both the numbers and a gallery to play to. The expected crowds never turned up even with the inducement of free Maama kits to those mothers that need them most. Frustrated, Dr Besigye has now returned to the city, where he hopes to re-enact his failed gimmicks of 2011 walk-to-work protests, largely to offer accountability to his funders that have over time been querying his ability and pondering a possible change of heart. The only way to keep his foreign donors, therefore, is to cause unrest and hope to alter the election calendar while covering up for his dwindling ratings. Luckily enough, law enforcement agencies have seen through these intentions and have nipped their evil schemes in the bud.
The guise for this latest attempt at causing upheaval is masked in the claim that Dr Besigye and his group are making a case for electoral reforms. Of course we all know that the Executive has tabled a Bill in Parliament to amend several election-related laws. The discussion to enrich this debate is happening before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament. Just last week, an organized Uganda Law Society appeared before the committee and made known what it wants changed in the law. They never went to the street to fight with the police and disrupt trade. For Dr Besigye and Company however, such a civil procedure is not what they seek. Even as they appeared before the committee of parliament last week, Dr Besigye was not ashamed to suggest that elections could even be postponed, as if uganda is under any state of emergence or constitutional crisis. Besigye was part of the 1995 constitutional making process and is fully aware about how the question of political governance was well handled in the constitution. If he has a wide range of issues to warrant a constitutional overhaul, he should instead propose and call for the formation of a constitutional review commission that will carry out wide spread consultations across the country. This however cannot justify his weird idea of postponing elections. The many other constitutional issues are far bigger beyond elections. And this explains why the amendments proposed by government and now being scrutinized by parliament are not that many. They are specific to elections. The whole agenda of besigye and team however, is to create a bizarre that gives them cover to avoid elections. Period!
One of their rallying calls for protest and boycott is the claim that the Electoral Commission is not independent because it is appointed by the President. Together with a clique of some well known partisan elements in civil society, they argue that the commission should be appointed by an “independent” body like the Judicial Service Commission. Yet again one wonders why they believe that the judicial service commission can be independent when actually its also appointed by the same President. So if the judicial service commission is independent as by their own admission, yet its appointed by the president what then stops the electoral commission from being independent as well? And if indeed they claim that the president can influence the electoral commission by virtue of his position as its appointing authority , how insulated will it be against that alleged influence, if again its appointed by the judicial service commission, a body that also gets appointed by the same President?. What a huge contradiction on their part? Substantively they have no strong views to talk of as reforms.
The Bill tabled by the Executive proposes to ammend Article 60 of the Constitution as follows:
“There shall be a commission called the Independent Electoral Commission which shall consist of a chairperson, a deputy chairperson and such other members as Parliament shall by law prescribe, all of whom shall be appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.” So what ingredients does this specific amendment introduce in as far guaranteeing the independence of the electoral commission is concerned? Is it only about the change of name without any other substance, as some critics are saying?
First, It makes the appointment of the commission a shared responsibility and not solely for the president. Meaning that any nominee of questionable integrity or impartiality can be rejected by parliament as it has happened in the past with some nominees. If Besigye and group can’t trust the parliament elected by the citizenry what other body then will they trust?
Second, The Bill also entrenches security of tenure for the commissioners by stating that they can only be removed by a tribunal as happens with judges.
Third, MPs can now determine the shape of the EC and ultimately its composition since the law gives them that power. But most critical of all is that commissioners now have even greater security of tenure since their removal process is no walk in the park. The sum total of these amendments is that the President’s would be monopoly in appointing and removing the electoral commissioners has been totally removed.
Any serious political outfit therefore, would now concentrate its energies on convincing voters on why they should be elected than looking for scape goats. But aware that they lack the numbers both in Parliament and in the population, Dr Besigye and his minions have instead resorted to headline-grabbing antics of demonstrating in the city. For someone who has contested thrice for the presidency and was roundly rejected by voters, it’s not rocket science to know why Dr Besigye now has a phobia for elections. This group also fails to explain how despite the “compromised” commission as they allege, they have managed to win some parliamentary seats even in places where President Museveni has vigorously campaigned for NRM candidates but in vain. Surely, if the EC was all about reading the “President’s lips” we would not have opposition MPs like Semujju Nganda, Abdu Katuntu, Nandala Mafabi, Wafula Oguttu and others in parliament. How come the victory that the same electoral commission delivers to them in those areas where they have support, is not disputed?
The record of NRM in reforming our country’s previously shattered electoral process is unequalled and well known. In addition to the many fundamental electoral reforms that the NRM introduced like; One ballot box for all, voting on the same day and declaring results on the same day by close of voting time, we recently introduced and implemented yet another fundamental reform of National Identity Card. It is a real master strategy in addressing problems of multiple voting and impersonation. Those that continue to clamor for reforms but yet again fail to acknowledge or support this electoral fraud proof system which identifies every person of voting age and captures all his/her Bio-metrics leaving no chance of impersonation, become real jokers. Previously, the electoral commission has been using pictures/photos only as a slight improvement from the past, to deal with the question of identity. But this alone was not 100% fraud proof, given the fact that some people (like twins) can look alike and therefore confuse the election officials. The National Identity exercise added on the Bio-metrics. These cannot be impersonated. It is a great mile stone indeed and the real reform to talk of. Therefore, anybody serious about fighting election fraud should embrace those real reforms and not engage in unlawful street fights. I don’t see what else can be better than this, in real scientific experience of fighting electoral fraud.
The writer is Kibale County MP and Minister for the Presidency and Kampala capital city
Frank Tumwebaze, MP
Minister in Charge of the Presidency and Kampala Capital City, Government of Uganda