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Uganda Government, Opposition Spar Over Electoral Commission

Uganda’s opposition political parties have demanded the overhaul of the current Electoral Commission (EC) saying they do not trust it to organize free, fair, and credible elections.

The opposition, working under the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), a loose group of four major political parties, is protesting the appointment of Electoral body’s commissioners. They want them replaced with what they describe as a new and non-partisan team.

In addition, they also want a new modality for constituting the electoral commission developed by all stakeholders before the 2011 elections. Under the Ugandan constitution the EC commissioners are appointed by the president and vetted by parliament.

Last week, President Yoweri Museveni defended the EC during a meeting with the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, saying the electoral body was independent and the commissioners were vetted by parliament, including members of the opposition.

Mr. Carson also met with the leaders of the opposition who described their meeting as “very good.” “We took the opportunity to impress on Ambassador Carson the fact that the people of Uganda have finally drawn a line in the sand,” said Dr. Olara Otunnu, the president of one of the political parties, the Uganda People’s Congress.

“People are saying that they deserve exactly the same kind of democracy like other countries.” He said the people need a democracy in which elections are truly free and fair and in which the electoral body is truly independent.

The opposition has rejected the EC, Otunnu said, because “it is integrated with the ruling party and has become part and parcel of the rigging machine of Mr. Museveni. The commission is part and parcel of the ruling party.”
He said they (opposition leaders) made it clear to Mr. Carson that their position is not negotiable. “We will not compromise on the issue of genuinely free and fair elections and therefore a genuinely independent electoral commission to preside over such elections.”

The opposition, added Otunnu, will call on the people of Uganda not to cooperate with the current electoral commission.

He said the opposition is however ready to begin discussions about new modalities of constituting a new electoral commission.

Otunnu said the opposition parties are preparing for the 2011 elections and will continue to mobilize the people but added “elections have to be free and fair otherwise they are meaningless.”

“We must have an election commission that is independent, provides a level playing field for all parties, and isn’t aligned with one of the parties,” he said.