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Cablegate: Usg-Sponsored Debate Starts Dialogue On Uganda's 2011

R 100551Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KAMPALA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0846
INFO RWANDA COLLECTIVE
IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS KAMPALA 001470


DEPT PASS TO USAID

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM UG
SUBJECT: USG-SPONSORED DEBATE STARTS DIALOGUE ON UGANDA'S 2011
ELECTIONS

1. Summary: Ruling party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi and
Opposition Leader in Parliament Morris Latigo participated in a
debate on challenges to the electoral system in Uganda on October
30. U.S. Mission Kampala, capitalizing on interest in U.S.
elections, partnered with a local think tank to sponsor the debate
to encourage dialogue on electoral reform in Uganda. In what was a
lively discussion, participants exchanged views on the government's
failure to institutionalize the Supreme Court's electoral reform
recommendations following the 2006 elections, public financing for
political parties, the independence of the Electoral Commission, and
the democratization process. The debate was well received, with
members of Parliament, civil society, academia, and the development
and diplomatic community in attendance. End Summary.

---------------------------------
Electoral Commission Independence
---------------------------------

2. A local think tank, backed by U.S. Mission public diplomacy
funding, hosted a debate on "Challenges to the Electoral Systems in
Africa" on October 30. The discussion focused on three issues:
Electoral Commission (EC) independence, electoral reform, and
campaign finance. Opposition Leader in Parliament Morris Ogenga
Latigo opened the debate with an appeal to Africans to "stop
deceiving themselves that the African environment somehow required a
different set of rules to achieve democracy." He said that the
fundamentals for democracy were very clear and that reforms are
meaningless unless politics change. Latigo suggested that there was
a need to "change the mindset" of African leaders who cling to power
under the notion that it is only they who can govern. Turning to
Uganda specifically, he said that the Electoral Commission (EC) did
not deliver free and fair elections in 2001 or 2006, and that the
Supreme Court rulings confirmed this. The Supreme Court ruling
cited fundamental problems in the 2006 elections which included
involvement of the security forces in elections, intimidation,
violence, lack of voter education, partisan conduct of electoral
officials, and disenfranchisement of voters. He stressed the need
to reconstitute the EC to include representation from the opposition
and said that the body should be free of state intervention.

3. Security Minister and National Resistance Movement (NRM)
Secretary General Amama Mbabazi acknowledged Latigo's concerns that
additional reforms were needed to address electoral irregularities
that occurred in 2006, but disagreed that the EC itself required
reform. He said that the EC had made considerable progress towards
ensuring free and fair elections. Mbabazi rejected the idea of
establishing a multiparty EC, arguing that the "integrity and
independence" of the electoral body was more important than the
political leanings of its members. He cited the appointment of High
Court Justice Joseph Mulenga, a former Chairman of the Democratic
Party (DP), and Supreme Court Judge George Kanyeihamba, an NRM
member, as examples of individuals with dissenting philosophies who
performed their professional duties. Justice Kanyeihamba, who was
seated in the audience, used Mbabazi's opening to express his
concern over the government's failure to act on the Supreme Court
recommendations for electoral reform.

--------------------------
Areas for Electoral Reform
--------------------------

4. Latigo argued that a number of changes are needed in the
electoral process and that the EC should draw lessons from Rwanda.
He explained that in Rwanda, electoral officials set up polling
stations in schools or open places as opposed to Uganda, where some
stations are located in isolated bush areas where it is difficult to
verify that proper procedures are followed. He urged the EC to
establish a delivery schedule for election materials to avoid
confusion at polling centers on election day. Mbabazi again noted
Latigo's concerns, but reminded him that considerable progress
towards improving the electoral system had been made under the NRM
government. He said that the government had, for example,
established preset election dates and times, instituted a more
secure ballot box, changed the ballot counting process, and passed
electoral provisions allowing 90 days for any dispute to be resolved
before the swearing in of the President. Mbabazi said that the EC
was working on legal amendments to take into account the Supreme
Court's recommendations. However, he reminded Latigo that "just
because the government does not accept your proposal does not mean
that it did not weigh it appropriately." On presidential term
limits, Mbabazi said limiting the President to two terms was
"undemocratic" and African democracies were "too immature" to handle
frequent, sometimes violent elections.

----------------------------
Campaign Financing Necessary
----------------------------

5. Mbabazi acknowledged that campaign financing was critical in the
electoral process. He said the state should fund all candidates and
the law should limit foreign resources to avoid external
interference or undue influence. Latigo expressed concerned that
the current government could not or would not fund opposition
political parties fairly. He challenged the government to reveal
the NRM's accountability on the 2006 election. He noted that the
FDC accounted for funds it used in the 2006 elections, but the NRM
party had not. He said the bill on campaign financing currently
before Parliament failed to address the issue of accountability.
Latigo supported the idea of foreign funding of political parties
and agreed that the parties must be transparent and accountable
about sources of funding.

-----------------------
Other Issues of Concern
-----------------------

6. Latigo criticized the military's role in the electoral process
and said that army representatives in Parliament "always side with
the NRM party" and should be removed, calling their presence
undemocratic. Audience members during the question and answer
portion of the debate pressed Mbabazi on late enactment of electoral
laws and subsequent late release of electoral funding in previous
elections. They accused the government of restricting the
opposition's ability to use public media for debate on political
issues and curtailing public assembly rights. Mbabazi responded
that there had been much more political freedom and expansion of the
independent media under the NRM. One participant called for
proportional representation to reduce the size of parliament.

-------
Comment
-------

7. We were pleased with the tone of the discussion set by Mbabazi
and Latigo. They focused on the topics of debate, presented their
points of view, and provided strong counterpoints. The discussion
helped achieve several of post's objectives. First, public
discussion of the modalities of Uganda's elections in order to
enable a free and fair poll is critical to get buy-in from all
parties. Second, the neutral venue allowed potentially charged
political issues to be discussed with the public in a non-political
venue. Third, if continued, these discussions could help foster a
tone that, if maintained into the elections, may allow electoral
issues to be resolved in a non-violent manner. Finally,Qhe public
discussion hopefully will jumpstart government preparations for the
next elections, which according to many observers need to start now
to ensure a credible poll in 2011. We are getting requests to
support additional debates in hopes of maintaining momentum for
dialogue on issues of national interest.

BROWNING

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