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Ugandan President  Contests Invalidation of Referendum - 2004-06-29


Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is appealing a constitutional court decision to invalidate a referendum in which voters rejected multi-party politics.

Lawyers for President Museveni are expected to argue, among other things, that the 2000 referendum was conducted in a democratic manner.

In that referendum, the government had asked voters whether they wanted to adopt multi-party politics or stay with the current one-party government, commonly known as the Movement. The voters rejected the first option in favor of the Movement. As a result, political parties can be formed, but cannot contest elections.

Last week, the constitutional court ruled that the 2000 referendum was invalid because the proper procedures were not followed in the enactment of the legislation to hold the vote.

Presidential spokesman Francis Ekomoloit says the procedural flaws were not serious enough to justify the invalidation of the referendum.

"On the face of it, it would appear like the judges, or at least some of them, became over-zealous, and I think the state feels it has a case in the appeal," he said.

Mr. Ekomoloit says President Museveni intends to put the same question to a national referendum next year. He argues Uganda's political future is too important to be left just up to the politicians.

President Museveni took power in 1986 and has been in office ever since.

The leader of the Democratic Party, Kasiano Wadri, who was among those challenging the 2000 ballot, says the haste with which the legislation was enacted and the way the referendum was carried out prevented the opposition from expressing its views and voters from hearing all sides of the debate.

He says the nullification of that referendum means all subsequent elections were invalid. "In essence, therefore, the effect of this ruling is that all elections which were conducted ever since 2001, that is, the presidential election, the parliamentary elections, the local councilor elections, are technically null and void because Ugandans did not contest under a system of their choice," said Mr. Wadri.

According to press reports, the constitutional court judges did not touch on this issue.

A political analyst and chairman of the former Constitution Review Commission, Fredrick Ssempebwa, says, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, the introduction of multiparty politics to Uganda is a foregone conclusion.

He says even Movement officials themselves accept multi-partyism, and it would be a waste of time to put the issue to another vote. "First of all, I've never believed in the necessity for a referendum to move from Movement to multiparty," said Mr. Ssempebwa. "My opinion is based on the fact that it's not in contention anymore."

Mr. Ssempebwa says some believe Mr. Museveni will use next year's referendum to amend the constitution so that he can stay on for a third term. The current constitution limits the president to two five-year terms.

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