The opposition and civil society driven National consultation on Free and Fair Elections forum finally came to a close on Wednesday afternoon at Hotel Africana.
The three-day event was climaxed with the signing of a set of electoral reforms agreed upon by citizens’ representatives from all 14 sub-regions of the country.
Some of key amendments highlighted sought to disband and establish an independent Electoral Commission, restore presidential term limits, detach the national army of partaking in the electoral process, halt the use of national resources by incumbents in the campaigns, and eliminate Army Representatives from parliament.
The forum was embraced by all key political parties except the ruling NRM. It’s nonetheless dragged on with high-spited parallel debates and heated plenary sessions.
Bringing together participants from all corners of the nation, of diverse political affiliation, religions and cultures, the event turned out a blend of drama, frustration, accusations and sleep.
It kicked off Monday morning with no trace of President Yoweri Museveni who was reportedly invited to officiate at the opening.
Other officials including The Inspector General of Police, the Electoral Commission head and Minister of Internal Affairs turned down the invite as well.
Minister of Presidency Hon Frank Tumwebaze denied any government “official invitation” to the event.
Government’s absence stimulated a feeling of its noncommittal stance on the electoral reforms, driving some participants like Col Kiiza Besigye to propose “forcing the reforms on parliament and the executive.”
“This is the point where the role of the citizens begins,” he stated. “We must force these reforms onto government. It is hopeless to expect the parliament of Mr Museveni to accept passing these amendments.”
Some NRM participants expressed dismay that their party leaders could dodge a meeting of such importance.
At the heat of frustration a one Ainebyona Vix Kingo strolled majestically and occupied President Yoweri Museveni’s empty seat at the podium.
Day 2 proceedings were nearly disrupted by rumors that government has infiltrated and bribed the organizers to misguide the conference.
Tempers flared as some participants threatened to pack their bags and head back home, branding the event and a clear waste of time.
The chaos started when word started circulating that chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Campaign Amb. Dr Olara Otunnu had intercepted information that government had paid the organizers to misguide the proceedings.
Otunnu immediately took the podium and spoke furiously that he wouldn’t tolerate all the months of campaign to be put to waste by the organizers.
Otunnu expressed dismay that two days into the forum, no issue about reforms had been touched and claimed that organizers were plotting to bring up the reforms debate at the end when everyone is exhausted.
He went on for minutes, accusing them of double standards as the MC struggled in vain to wave him down for “time wasting.”
The event also saw some delegates including members of parliament fighting for facilitation cash at the reception, something that infuriated FDC’s Col Kiiza Besigye.
Besigye warned that a campaign of such nature ought to be driven by passion not greed, with or without facilitation and funding from donors.
Other participants amidst this whole storm were too exhausted and snoring through the whole conference.