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Uganda Opposition Lament Lack Of Reforms As Campaigns Kick Off

Campaigns are underway in Uganda for the upcoming general elections. The political opposition is accusing General Yoweri Museveni’s government for failure or refusal to implement the much needed political reforms.

Among the reforms the opposition wants implemented is the composition of an independent electoral commission.

The leader of the leading opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Col. Kizza Besigye has repeatedly criticized the Electoral Commission (EC), saying it should be disbanded before the 2011 elections.

Besigye, who has lost twice to President Yoweri Museveni in 2001 and 2006 disputed elections, says the EC is a rubber stamp of the ruling NRM and should be replaced with an impartial team.

Any efforts at democratization are worthwhile, said Dr. Muniini Mulera, a political commentator and columnist for a major Ugandan daily newspaper, The Monitor.

Mulera told VOA from the Canadian city ofToronto that to expect that the elections of next year are going to be any more democratic and tolerant than previous ones is to expect too much.

“There is a fundamental democracy deficit,” he said, “within Uganda and as in many parts of the world, particularly on our continent.” The current electoral commission, he said, is totally biased, adding that in fact it is an outfit of the ruling NRM.

Mulera said he doubts whether Uganda or the current leaders have a culture of democracy. “If they did, then there shouldn’t be an argument about the independence of the electoral commission.”

“Its part of the feudal belief,” he said, “that feudal arrangement where once you are in power you must perpetuate yourself.”

Mulera, however, said it is important for the campaigns to go ahead because the alternative is to give up and cede ground to Mr. Museveni without any challenges from the opposition.

“The danger with that,” he said, “is that you now have more absolute dictatorship on one hand and encouraging violence as an only alternative left to the opposition.”

Mulera noted that the peaceful transformation of Uganda is going to take time but added: “We simply have to push on with challenging the regime and calling for reforms until the people wake up and demand for an independent electoral commission and free elections.”

He said he had no doubt that President Museveni will not accept defeat next year.

Observers say Uganda's past elections have been marred by violence. Human rights activists, the opposition, and the Supreme Court have all condemned the involvement of security forces in the polls in favor of President Museveni.

Early this month the United States Congress issued a directive to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to monitor next year's Ugandan presidential election to ensure that it's free and fair.

The directive called on Secretary Clinton to work with other countries, including the European Union and Canada, in monitoring preparations for the Ugandan elections, including: “the independence of the electoral commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates.”