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Uganda Opposition Leader Presses for Political Reform

FILE - Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
FILE - Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

Uganda’s main opposition leader and past presidential candidate said anyone who believes in democracy must work for reform aimed at a free and fair electoral process.

Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change contested three consecutive presidential elections, in 2001, 2006, and 2011. Besigye said all three were marked by voting irregularities. He has announced his candidacy to contest the 2016 election.

Last Thursday, police arrested him, along with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who is seeking the ruling party’s nomination, on what they called “preventive” measures.

Besigye said he plans to resume his campaign Tuesday in spite of the threat of being re-arrested. He said the police have no power under the Public Order Management Act, an old colonial law, to stop political parties from holding meetings.

“My arrest is a clear, undoubted part of persecution of political opponents by [President Yoweri] Museveni and his regime. It is done in complete violation of our laws; it is an act of impunity on the part of regime police, and this is part of the reason we are struggling to have a new system of political management in our country. The struggle in Uganda is not just an electoral contest, it is a liberation struggle,” he said.

Besigye said the law the police used to justify his arrest, and that of Mbabazi, is antiquated and does not apply to today’s political parties.

“That law, on which they based such action, is a law that was enacted in 1957 by the British colonial government. And it’s a law, therefore, that was meant to service the colonial regime and that is the dilemma that we have. We are supposed to be an independent nation, but being run by colonial institutions and colonial systems,” he said.

He said because the three presidential elections he contested were characterized by irregularities, it should be the mission of every Ugandan to demand reforms ahead of next year’s vote.

“And so, in the upcoming elections, we have made it clear that there has to be reforms to the political system that can engender a free and fair election, even it means that the election is not held the time when it is supposed to be held. We are going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure there are reforms ahead of next year,” Besigye said.

Besigye was arrested last Thursday along with former Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who is seeking the nomination of the ruling National Resistance Movement of Uganda.

Mbabazi, who is seeking the nomination of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), told VOA he has been holding discussions with members of the opposition because he doesn’t consider himself an enemy of anyone, and likewise, the opposition should not see him as an enemy.

“We are Ugandans who espouse maybe different ideas about how to run country. It only means that we have different approaches. And this should not really stop us from cooperating with each other,” Mbabazi said.

Besigye said the first task that all democratic forces in Uganda should be working on is to make sure that there is free and fair election. As that process goes on, he said, there are discussions on having a common candidate of the democratic forces once a decision has been made to participate in the election.

“Mr. Mbabazi is not yet a signatory of the protocol that established that mechanism, but he has declared support for it. If he certainly appends to that process and becomes part and parcel of that process, then, quite obviously he will be in the pool through which a common candidate can emerge,” Besigye said.

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