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Uganda Electoral Commission must be disbanded

Source: O. Kalinge-Nnyago
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Uganda's Inter Party Cooperation, IPC, addressed a stern press

conference on Wednesday this week stating their categorical position

on the present Electoral Commission. Stern indeed because they did not

even take any questions. They rejected the EC completely, refused to

cooperate with it in any way and called for a new independent

Electoral Commission to be put in place before another election is

held in Uganda. They said they were ready to embark on discussions

with all stakeholders on new modalities to constitute a new electoral

commission.
In the remaining time it is difficult to see a new electoral

commission in place to hold an election. The new commission will need

time to commence a new electoral process, including creation of a new,

acceptable voters' register. It seems there will not be an election on

the scheduled dates. This could spell a constitutional crisis for the

country and will put the government on the defensive. Elections are

scheduled for February/March 2011.
The so called donors or development partners that have already

invested heavily in the electoral
process will be put under tremendous strain to explain to their tax

payers why so much of
their money is being spent on a worthless exercise whose outcome has

already been rejected.
We have argued in this space before that it is no longer be possible

for anyone to ignore, postpone or gloss over the inevitability for a

new independent electoral commission if a free and fair election is to

be held in Uganda. The sooner this subject is confronted head on, the

better for all stakeholders. Nothing is going well. The much awaited

registration process targeting 3.5 million new voters has been fraught

with serious difficulties. Not enough registration equipment has

arrived, despite the announced order of 4000 workstations, EC

officials have admitted that only half has been delivered, and number

of malfunctions have been registered. The staff have not been properly

trained and it is hoped that they would learn on the job. This is

possible. But more time than is available is needed. The registration

exercise will certainly have to be extended if the government is to

avoid being taken to constitutional court especially by the youth (the

primary target of the registration exercise) who claim that they have

been disenfranchised. But how long would the extension be to achieve

the desired result?
There are documented cases of NRM functionaries taking over the

registration exercise, selectively targeting opposition youth for

exclusion. Other cases of foreigners that have been ferried into the

country in Buliisa District have not been denied. The sudden influx of

former refugees who have returned to Nakivale refugee camp, purposely

to register as Ugandan voters has also been reported. The whole

registration exercise has been abused. It is not difficult to predict

the impact of these developments on the credibility of the electoral

process.
What was not clear from the IPC statement was whether they would

boycott the next election given their adamant stand. They

deliberately, in my view, decided to remain vague on this matter but

instead introduced the hitherto officially unmentioned possibility of

a “no election at all” – which is different from a boycott. A boycott

would mean that those willing to participate in the elections would be

free to do so, even under uncertain circumstances. However, the

opposition's hidden threat to make sure that no election is held at

all unless a new and independent commission is in place may be a

veiled announcement of yet unspecified political actions that the

opposition intends to undertake to force the government and other

stakeholders to negotiate modalities for establishing a new

commission.
But what is it that makes the regime and the development partners

oblivious of the difficult times ahead if a botched election is held

under questionable circumstances? Is it intelligence reports that

underestimate the gravity of the situation? Is it the feeling of the

regime that it can contain any unrest that may arise out of a rigged

election by use of force? Or is it the widely held view that Ugandans

are a disorganized lot incapable of exerting coordinated political

pressure in pursuit of their demands?
There is still some time for all the stakeholders, both local and

international to prevent a catastrophe from happening. Our role is to

warn, basing on available evidence.
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