By Crispy Kaheru
As the appointment of the new EC looms over the political horizon, there is a general consensus on having an election management body that fits into the current political context of the country – the prevailing modus operandi or aspirations of a multi-party democratic political dispensation.
At the moment, the manner of appointment prescribed in Constitution, Article 60 (1) of the 1995 Constitution is that, all seven (7) Commissioners are appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.
Entities including civil society groups, political parties and other professional bodies including the Uganda Law Society have since 2006 mooted a suggestion that Commissioners be hired through a public appointment process, that enlists wider stakeholder consultation and a more inclusive approval mechanism that instills public confidence in the capacity of the commissioners and their ability to operate more professionally.
If Uganda was to pursue a competitive application based appointment process, it would require amending the current provisions of appointment in both the Constitution and the Electoral Commission Act to provide for a (new) detailed process of identifying and selecting persons to be appointed as members of the Commission.
However, since this is realistically not possible given the short time span to the appointment of the new Electoral Commission, it is very critical that the appointing authority (the President) this time round, intensively consults with various stakeholders including: civil society, the academia, political parties, the judiciary, professional bodies, with a view of obtaining recommendations of an exceptional caliber of individuals who will continuously attract public confidence.
Such a consultative appointment process will not espouse a certain level of public participation but will also dispels any ‘would be’ perceptions of biasness, and favoritism by the appointing authority. Such a process will strengthen the credibility and legitimacy of the Commissioners and will definitely portend well with the Public’s trust in the institution of the new EC.
Given that elections have become highly specialised and have since drawn a lot of public interest than never before, we will also expect the President to put much emphasis on the professional and academic qualifications of the next Commissioners.
Similarly, pursuant to the provisions in the Equal Opportunities Act, 2007, it is critical that the appointing authority is seen to take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalized on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason to ensure that the new commission wholly representative of the demographics of the country. This will also inherently operationalize the legislative guarantees on equal participation in the election process through real actions designed within the composition of the Electoral Commission.
Many analysts have argued that the inclusivity of an electoral process begins at the top echelon of an election management body. If the EC is for instance not reflective of the demographic composition of the country, chances are that the actual electoral processes may not be or will be far-removed from the population. Today, women and youth make up a larger part of Uganda’s population; this could be an important consideration during the composition of the new EC. This will further engender Uganda’s electoral processes with pronounced disability, youth and women friendly electoral practices.
Besides, Ugandans will expect a Commission that is regionally and ethnically balanced, but also a Commission that takes into account the religious contours of the country.
Taking the above issues into consideration in the appointment of the new EC will not only further guarantee the professionalism and independence of the Election Commission but also serve to address some of the trust issues that have been enunciated by various actors. Besides, consideration of these factors will enable the institution to inherently remain insulated from external pulls and pressures that are likely to confront such a sensitive body.
Coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)