Come 2016, Uganda will go to the polls with yet again the question of an unresolved “legal map”. Whereas we may boast of having had a “road map” several years before the next election, the “legal map” for the 2016 election has again not been clearly defined especially to the people’s expectations. The boarders and boundaries of this “legal map” have since 2001 been a big issue – with several stakeholders unremittingly suggesting how this can be plugged, but in vain.
Since 2001, one of the highlights of each subsequent election cycle has always been to postpone concrete electoral reforms – talk about shelving a problem and deferring a solution. That is exactly what it has been! Someone else could look at it differently; the small incremental reforms that have been undertaken since the early 2000s could be seen as mere soothers to a serious malignancy. Of what use would it be to take an aspirin capsule once a week with faith that it will cure a fully blown cancer?
Similarly, one would be quick to ask, what’s the impact of a well laid out road map without a corresponding proper legal infrastructure? Imagine a road plan without clear traffic signage; wouldn’t it be a recipe for disaster especially for the road users? Imagine if the “black spots” on some of the Kampala roads were not clearly marked?
The 2016 election comes as one of those elections where those in charge of reforming the electoral process have no excuse whatsoever with respect to why necessary electoral reforms have not been adopted. It was never a question of time, neither was it a question of lack of content or public will.
Unlike previous electoral cycles, formal calls for reforms this time round, featured as early as 7th December 2011 when the Citizens’ Electoral Reform Agenda (CERA) was officially unveiled to government, law makers and other stakeholders. The CERA outlined the major reform proposals including: reinstatement of presidential term limits; strengthening the Electoral Commission to make it more independent, credible and impartial; instituting a clean, accurate and credible voters register extracted from the national ID system; streamlining special interest group representation in Parliament; streamlining the role of security agencies in elections and partisan politics; instituting heavy sanctions on persons who commit electoral offences; instituting a framework through which a presidential runner-up candidate is represented in Parliament and introducing stringent frameworks to streamline campaign financing and the use of public resources in elections.
The lack of comprehensive and substantive electoral reforms as outlined in several consensus documents including the CERA, the Citizens’ Compact, the proposals from the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) among others will definitely create lapses that could have the potential of compromising the integrity and outcome of the next set of elections. In essence this “missed step” automatically puts the 2016 elections in an awkward context making it easy to challenge both the process and outcome – notwithstanding the incremental administrative improvements that have been undertaken.
Only the major and bold changes to our electoral system would have provided the permanent solution to the ever-going cycle of electoral complaints and counter-complaints.
Because the “legal map” of the forthcoming election has not been defined in accordance with the wishes of the people, it is now time that the citizens explore alternative approaches to safeguarding their vote, making their vote count and ensuring that they make the electoral process much more meaningful even in the wake of a limited electoral law support system.
In the current context, (active) citizen vigilance is going to have to be a major recourse in plugging any gaps that could provide opportunity for electoral malpractices and manipulation.
Even with the recourse to the citizen vigilance stance, the risk of any positive momentum towards elections dissipating will continue being real in Uganda unless the whole question of electoral reform is addressed concretely, conclusively and timeously.