The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’. The United Nations has thus been involved in the field of electoral assistance since its founding in 1945, working to establish and advance the principles of democracy and political rights.
The design of electoral systems is a vital component of these processes. It cannot be considered in isolation from the wider context of constitutional and institutional design, and it can be critical for areas as diverse as conflict management, gender representation and the development of political party systems. Done well, electoral system design can add to the momentum of political change, encourage popular participation, and enable the emergence of legitimate representatives who are capable of handling a wide range of needs and expectations, immediately and in the future. Done badly, it can derail progress towards democracy or even political stability.
To be successful, electoral system design processes must build understanding and trust–not just among politicians and election administrators, but among civil society organizations, among commentators, and above all among the citizens of a country undergoing democratic reform. Electoral systems must be designed not only to work under current situations but also to accommodate future changes in attitudes and behaviour as electoral incentives change. They can contribute to the development of stable democracy or they can be a major stumbling block to it.
The first dimension of political accountability requires free and fair elections for all as authorized by the constitution. The conditions for free and fair elections extend well beyond what happens on polling days. Other democratic prerequisites have to be present to ensure that ‘Fairness’ means the impartial administration of electoral laws, and ‘free’ of essential means equal opportunities for the exercise of essential freedoms.
The debate on electoral and constitutional reforms in our country ranges from how those who manage the entire process are appointed, many citizens actually believe no one can ever lose an election in which they have the power to hire and fire those who run it. To that end, the call for a new Independent electoral commission becomes relevant; the rules of the game have to change in order for all interested parties to have a leveled ground.
If reforms are not realized, the appointed team will pay allegiance to the appointee and that is where the unfairness of the process begins. In our culture the appointee becomes a godfather to those appointed because there is no security of tenure, paying allegiance to the appointee is the only way they will be sure of their jobs in a country that has a handful of them. So in order for them to protect their job, they have to deliver the process in the appointee’s favor and that is where the problem lies.
Elections are all well and good, but they may mean little to people if it is difficult for them to trust the electoral process or if at the end of the day their vote is rigged and in a way it makes no difference to the way the country is governed. In many cases these experiences drive many from the electoral process because they question the credibility of the process, it can be emotionally draining when a person goes to a polling station to vote well knowing at hand that your vote can only be safe when you cast it, but unsafe when it is counted. Who wants to stand in a long line on a hot day for nothing? Who wants to participate in a process that is they trust not? Many citizens can only take part in an electoral process when they are sure that their decision will determine the direction of governance in their country, otherwise why waste time and resources when you know your participation is just but ritual to escort and carry out a ceremony of swearing the same people who don’t agree with? Why take part in a process that seeks to take away your citizenry right to hold your leaders accountable? How will hold your leaders accountable if your vote did not count in the process?
Many reports indicated that over 5.4 million Ugandan registered voters stay away from the electoral process on voting day and one of the major reasons is that they do not trust the process. The Regional free and fair consultative forums reports indicate that there is no trust in the current Electoral Commission administration and in many proposals that came from all parts of Uganda were calling for its disbandment, a proposal the regime has disregarded and rubbished, but the question is in whose interest are these elections held? Is it the current ruling class or the people of Uganda?
Over 1,000 men, women and youth leaders gathered at Hotel Africana for three days to discuss and reach a consensus on key electoral reforms that could give our nation the needed free and fair elections. After long hours of deliberations a citizen call was sounded and it was captured in the Citizen’s Compact on Free and Fair Election. The compact outlines key reforms that need to be passed into law to help provide the long awaited fairness that has lacked in our elections for a period of 50 years. If these proposals are not passed into law, it would be expensive participate in another sham election; we would be putting the trust of the electorate to test, our credibility at trial and their proposals to waste. If we indeed spent those three days knowing that we gathered together for Free and Fair Elections, why are we rushing to take part in an election we already know its result? Are we just taking part for sake of fulfilling a ritual or escorting Mr. Museveni to his coronation?
The electoral process begins at the time when we decide who determines what our register will be like, who gets registered, when it (Register) is available to be scrutinized by all Ugandans. The moment we cannot interrogate our electoral system and make it accountable to the citizens that is the very moment we need to call for a better electoral process or none at all.