The current question is not as to whether reform is necessary, but rather as to how and when reform will be achieved. It appears that renewal of the social contract with the people of Uganda, through electoral reform, is an essential prerequisite to ensuring continued engagement by citizens with future electoral processes. The European Union (EU) stands ready to continue to support the country in this vitally important task.
The EU deployed an Election Follow-up Mission (EFM) to Uganda to assess the usefulness and impact of the EU EOM 2016 final report and to assess the extent to which the concerns and recommendations raised therein have been addressed. The EU EFM, led by Member of European Parliament, Mr. Eduard Kukan, has met a wide range of Ugandan and international stakeholders, including His Excellency President Museveni, members of the Government of Uganda, political parties and representatives of civil society.
The EU EOM, deployed to observe the February 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, identified a number of significant shortcomings in the electoral process which included: a lack of transparency and independence of the Electoral Commission (EC); a lack of transparency during the tallying and announcement of results; the abuse of state resources and personnel for campaign purposes; inequalities in access to the public media; an absence of genuine and effective access to remedies for electoral disputes; and the excessive use of force by law enforcement bodies which violated fundamental freedoms of movement, expression and assembly
Subsequent to the elections of 2016, the EU EOM published a Final Report which contained a detailed analysis of the electoral process and offered a set of recommendations for the consideration of authorities and other stakeholders in Uganda. The recommendations, thirty in all, of which eleven were priority, were derived from the domestic law of Uganda, as well as (from?) the regional and international legal obligations of the State. The aim of the recommendations was to enhance the legitimacy and credibility of future electoral processes, while also promoting improved compliance with domestic law and international standards. Ugandan civil society observer groups, as well as other regional and international observers, also offered recommendations for the consideration of the Ugandan authorities.
In August 2016, the Supreme Court of Uganda, issued a ruling which included a set of ten directives to the Attorney General to achieve electoral reform, in cooperation with the Executive and the Parliament, . These recommendations were grounded in the Constitution and the existing laws of Uganda. The fulfilment of these recommendations was deemed necessary to rectify a litany of deficiencies in the conduct of elections which the judges had identified in their assessment of the election petition. While the petition itself was unsuccessful, weaknesses in the electoral processes were identified.
The EU EFM has been heartened to find that the recommendations of the EU EOM have been disseminated across several institutions of State and that many interlocutors were familiar with the content of the recommendations. While there has been virtually no progress on implementation of the recommendations to date, awareness of proposals, and the grounds thereof, is a crucial first step in the achievement of the recommendations. Similarly, there is widespread awareness of the directives of the Supreme Court.
Mr. Kukan, the Chief of Mission, said that “the implementation of EOM recommendations often necessitates legislative changes. Some other EOM recommendations go beyond the narrow management of elections and seek to improve the broader democratic context in which the elections are conducted, eg, through addressing the application of the fundamental freedoms necessary for the holding of genuine elections.”
There is at present a widespread agreement among political actors and the people of Uganda that there is an agenda for electoral reform, which is flowing from a variety of sources. The current question is not as to whether reform is necessary, but rather as to how and when reform will be achieved. It appears that renewal of the social contract with the people of Uganda, through electoral reform, is an essential prerequisite to ensuring continued engagement by citizens with future electoral processes.
The EU EFM has been analysing the question of how the EU might best offer support to the electoral reform process, and has been listening to the views of all stakeholders. The EU is eager and ready to engage in close cooperation to contribute to the strengthening the electoral process in Uganda and its democratic institutions.
Uganda stands at an important juncture of its electoral history and has an opportunity to take positive steps to improving its electoral process to ensure inclusive, transparent and credible polls.