Kenyans chose the path of legal electoral reforms aimed at averting recurrences of violence and building public confidence in the electoral processes. Uganda has on the other hand never been able to move towards implementing reforms, Isaac Mufumba writes.
The East African Community Observer Mission has lavished praise on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of Kenya for carrying out a smooth exercise on Tuesday.
It is hard to tell whether the country will once again erupt into an orgy of violence akin to what was witnessed following the highly contested 2007 presidential elections that resulted in the death of 1,100 people and the displacement of more than 600,000 people.
Following the elections this week, Kenya has generally been calm. This has been unusual for a country where violence has been a mainstay of almost every election cycle that has been held since 1990 when it adopted multiparty democracy.
How has a country, whose politicians are prone to invoking ethnic lines been, able to pull off that feat?
Kenya replicated in Uganda?
Would President Museveni ever wake up one day and campaign for Opposition leader Kizza Besigye to succeed him in a race where say Vice President Jessica Alupo were a candidate as outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta did for the man who had been his fiercest rival and critic?
Can an election here run as smoothly as it did across the border in Kenya?
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former member of the National Consultative Council, which served as Uganda’s Parliament under presidents Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa, believes that it is practically impossible for Ugandans to witness that, at least not under the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
“It is not possible for Mr Museveni to preside over such a transition. Those who cause mayhem cannot be the same people to preside over a peaceful transition. They introduced commercialisation and militarisation of the politics. They benefit from it,” Prof Wangoola says.
Kenya’s deliberate efforts
Kenyans chose the path of legal electoral reforms aimed at averting recurrences of election violence and building public confidence in the electoral processes.
Writing for the African Center for Strategic Studies, Mr Godfrey Musila noted that the starting point was soul-searching by all.
“The soul-searching triggered by the 2007/2008 experience galvanised a lengthy constitutional review process that culminated in Kenya’s widely heralded 2010 Constitution,” Mr Musila wrote.
The constitutional amendments resulted in the establishment of a two-tier government, with 47 county governments alongside the national government, devolution of economic and decision-making powers to elected governors, introduction of a presidential system with closely circumscribed powers checked by both the judiciary and a bicameral parliament consisting of a strong National Assembly and a Senate.
Other reforms included strengthening of the judiciary and handing the Supreme Court power to determine presidential elections’ petitions and addressed the question of discrepancies that existed in representation by redrawing electoral boundaries and applying a formula to determine the size of each constituency.
Independence of EC
Kenya, unlike Uganda, has been working to give its electoral processes credibility and legitimacy.
The Kenyan National Accord and Reconciliation Act, which was signed in February 2008 as part of efforts to end election violence, led to constitutional and institutional reforms, including a review of the Independent Review Committee (IREC) of the composition and operations of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).
That review concluded that the voter register was “materially defective” which impaired the integrity of elections.
It was as a result of that review that ECK was disbanded and replaced with the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), which organised the August 4, 2010, constitutional referendum. The IIEC’s tenure ended three months after the new constitution came into force. It was succeeded by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Naming EC commissioners
Under the IEBC Act, the president is required within 14 days of a vacancy arising in the commission to appoint a selection panel comprising a chairperson and eight members drawn from distinguished professionals in the private sector or public service with relevant expertise.
The panel is required within seven days of its convening to invite applications and publish the names of all applicants. It then shortlists and conducts interview.
The panel then selects three persons qualified to be appointed as chairperson and 13 persons qualified to be appointed as members of the commission and forwards them to the president whose selection must be approved by parliament.
Uganda has on the other never been able to move towards implementing reforms that would enhance the credibility of its own electoral processes.
A proposal to amend the manner in which the Electoral Commission (EC) is constituted has been a constant in all sets of reforms proposed by Opposition and the different teams that observed the 2001, 2006, 2011 and 206 general elections.
There have been calls for the process to be made more competitive and participatory because EC is looked at as an appendage of NRM, which will always cast doubts over the credibility of elections that it organises.
Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president Patrick Amuriat claims that although his party is aware that EC sometimes declares losers winners in total disregard of the will of the people, they still participate in elections because they stand to win in other ways.
“Where we win, it is big dividend for us. Where we lose, we still gain something out of that participation. When we participate we embolden and conscientise our people. It is good for encouraging our party members who will have lost steam and it is good for the politics of the country,” Mr Amuriat says.
Prof Wangoola says it would be asking for too much for NRM to work democratically.
The list of pending reforms is quite long. It includes, among others, waiving of the requirement for civil servants to resign before nominations, scrapping elections for special interest groups, introduction of five-year bans from elective politics for those found guilty of offences such as bribery and introduction of proportional representation.
In March 2016, the Supreme Court justices who presided over the election petition that Mr Amama Mbabazi filed challenging Mr Museveni’s election victory ordered government to carry out reforms including, among others, extending the period of filing and determination of presidential election petitions to 60 days.
The judges argued that this would enable both the courts and concerned parties to adequately prepare and present their cases. The judges also wanted media houses that do not grant equal airtime to presidential candidates to be penalised.
Court directed that the reforms be carried out within two years of the ruling to avoid hastily enacted legislation, but government has never complied.
Right from the time the 10th Parliament commenced business, then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga kept calling for the introduction by government of major electoral reforms, but it was not until July 2019 that government tabled the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill No.17, 2019, and the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill No.18, 2019.
Long standing proposals on reforms, including those that had been directed by the court, were, however, conspicuously missing.
From the foregoing, it would appear that NRM does not have the will to carry out any major reforms that would wash the mess off the electoral processes.
Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director for communications of the ruling NRM, insists that the party has the will to do so. He, however, hastens to add that this will begin with the various actors on the political scene.