OCTOBER 7, 2010: Electoral Reform Reports Are Too Little Too Late for 2011 Polls

Electoral Reform Reports Are Too Little Too Late for 2011 Polls

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Karoli Ssemogerere

The Ugandan elite and general population are starting to behave in a discordant fashion this election cycle. The absence of fresh faces and energy on the part of both the ruling party and the opposition are taking a toll on the coverage of the election.

One issue that seems to recur in the media with some frequency is the issue of electoral reform. At one point the stake seemed so high, especially after the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) made a case for an election boycott until the Electoral Commission was disbanded. This position proved untenable because the donor community who, for some time, were underwriting the cost of the political activities of these parties waffled leading to two developments.

First; once the news of Uganda's oil viability continued to grow some legs, the donors changed Uganda's national security classification to a country where they, of necessity, had to maintain cordial relations and stable government. It is no secret that key members of the donor community have actually told their contacts in the opposition that they are not in a hurry to unload the incumbent regime. The waffling has led to all sorts of mixed signals. Washington, which actually has some form of legislation to "monitor" Uganda's elections has added its imprimatur to a questionable election process "pouring" more aid into an Electoral Commission that their sub-cabinet official Jimmy Carson argued should be disbanded in a prior official visit to Uganda.

The second development has been the failure of the opposition to coalesce around a set of campaign goals and message. The stubbornness of the political elite in the opposition has made it difficult to come even close to articulating a coherent political message. This undermines the opposition on two fronts. First, the blurred message creates way for empty slogans. Sloganeering can only come after each side has laid out its programmes, manifestoes and tested them on the campaign trail. Voters will find it easier to identify with a slogan if the content is set out first. Second, the numerical strategists have gripped calculators that seem to work best when they are plotting how to weaken each other.

A cynical friend of mine once mentioned that one of the features of Uganda's political system consisted of the "muting" of Uganda's major religions. He singled out the Muslim community observing that Muslim wrangles always had "important" developments close to election time; which wrangles always worked out to the benefit of President Museveni who "worked" very hard each time to unite the Muslim community. This can be extended to others in equal order. The Catholic Conference of Bishops always publishes a very strong statement on the need for free and fair elections only for individual bishops- like Kabale Bishop Callistus Rubaramira has done, to strongly endorse the current rotten political system at election time.

The story goes the same for the political parties in varying states of disarray, some visited upon them by NRM. Kampala Mayor Nasser Ssebaggala seems to have chosen to wind up his political career fighting to a retirement home in Nakasero built by the British. UPC and DP wound up quitting the IPC after realising that the FDC-led outfit was little more than a vehicle to cannibalise further their membership. Each of the major parties FDC, DP and UPC have varying degrees of "formalised" infighting that continue to leave their supporters confused.

It is not a very good genetic trait that the opposition parties have produced nearly 50 candidates to run against President Museveni. In 1991, we looked at Zaire as it then was a fratricidal joke when Mobutu managed to mobilize 80 opponents to "run" against him. It is also not a good thing that all political party outfits/movements have members in their leadership who routinely sit with President Museveni at the same table laying strategies on how to render continued support for his tenure in State House.

The voters accustomed to the faces of the two leading candidates, Museveni and Besigye, meeting for the third contest in a decade are wearing their blinkers. They listen politely before retreating to vote as "directed". In the NRM primaries, they enjoyed themselves feasting on logistics procured with "stolen" money. It seems that this family feud which had The "Minister for Crocodiles" Kahinda Otafiire shedding tears at Comrade Mbabazi has been patched up.

In the urban centres- hotbed of the opposition politics- the story seems the same. The machine politics is making it rough for everyone as FDC strong women Ms Beti Kamya (now a presidential candidate running under Uganda Federal Alliance ticket) and Ms Anne Mugisha have learnt to their utter dismay.

Mr Museveni himself seems to be enjoying himself giving out envelopes at public functions, turning into Mr Transport Officer for our bishops. In fact, this time he seems not to have any pressure to throw himself into the sink attacking opposition leaders. That work has now been sub-contracted to lower minions and most of the dirty work to the opposition itself.

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