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Electoral Reforms Crucial For A Credible Poll Says Ugandan Opposition Leader

  • Douglas Mpuga

Although Ugandans go for general elections in 2011, the campaigns have already started. The opposition, civil society, and donors have argued that without meaningful electoral reforms a free and fair election is impossible. This view is shared by the leader of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Dr. Kiiza Besigye.

There have been preparations for the general campaign by way of each [political] party making internal arrangements and looking for candidates, said Dr. Besigye who is currently visiting in the United States. “In that regard it is rather new because this is the first time political parties are able to do internal democratic preparations ahead of a general election.”

He said political parties have been non-functional for about thirty years. “They were allowed to function legally only in 2005 and the first election they participated in was in 2006. So, the parties didn’t have time to organize and prepare for elections.”

Dr. Besigye said there is nothing being done in terms of preparations for the general election itself. “All the elections we have had in the past have been fraudulent and have been marred by irregularities and malpractices. Nothing that created that situation has been addressed yet which makes the upcoming elections uncertain in terms of credibility.”

Any election held under the current electoral regime, he said, would be inherently flawed. “I have been sounding the warning that (a flawed election) may spell another disaster for our country.”

He noted that all governments in Uganda have left office by force. “No Ugandan president has handed over power peacefully. Every president has simply been ‘bombed out’ of office.”

Dr. Besigye explained that because the people feel powerless to decide how they will be governed or who should govern them, they eventually, as a result of what degenerates into a very corrupt and oppressive regime, rise and throw out those governments.

"I can see that we are getting to that state whereby there is gross frustration in the population and any other fraudulent election is bound to cause trouble,” he said. It is not too late, he said, to work for reform. “We can and should and actually are working for reforms. If all pressure was mounted one could still see meaningful reforms in the remaining 12 months.”

He said he has not yet lost hope and was working within the inter-party cooperation – a loose cooperation of opposition political parties- to bring about reform but added that time is running out.

“Any person who presents a credible threat to the Kampala regime would be harassed and treated the same way I was treated,” he said in reference to criminal charges against him four years ago, some described as fabricated by the judge who dismissed them, others still pending in court.

“You ought to realize that all the harassment, intimidation and violation of my rights notwithstanding, popular support for us has been rising as support for NRM (ruling National Resistance Movement) has been dwindling.”

Any opposition leader in an oppressive regime, he said, “like the one we have in Uganda, will suffer the same way but that does not stop the demise of a dictatorship.”

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986. He last won a contested re-election in 2006 and is likely to be his party’s candidate for re-election in early 2011.