By Gerald Bareebe and Katherine Haywood (February 25, 2010)

Kampala — At least 30 female opposition supporters yesterday caught security off-guard and staged a sit-down demonstration at Parliament, demanding an overhaul of the Electoral Commission.

The women used the swearing-in ceremony of the newly-elected Mbale Municipality member of Parliament, Mr Jack Wamanga Wamai, to sneak into Parliament to reiterate their demand for electoral reforms.

The demonstrators, mainly from the Inter-Party Cooperation (an umbrella organisation for the leading opposition parties), first wore blue FDC T-shirts in the Parliament chamber during the ceremony, which they then removed as they relocated to the foyer of the House to reveal the black 'women for peace' tops that gained popularity during their previous demonstration outside the EC last month.

The police were more restrained on this occasion, but they were present in force, with female officers matching the number of demonstrators. The women were at first silent, holding placards with slogans which read, "President Museveni, remember the reasons which took you to the bush," and, "this is a peaceful proposal: overhaul the EC."

A few metres away, several hundred supporters led by Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi and Mr Wamai taunted the government as they cheered the women's action. This was the second time the women had mobilised against the Eng. Badru Kiggundu-led electoral team that President Museveni reappointed last year despite allegations, separately confirmed by the Supreme Court, that the 2006 election that the team oversaw was rife with irregularities.

Ms Ingrid Turinawe, the leader of the group, said similar protests will continue throughout the country until the Electoral Commission is re-constituted. "Dr Kigunddu and other commissioners must leave because the Supreme Court ruled that they are very incompetent to organise a presidential election," Ms Turinawe said.

She also demanded the restoration of presidential term limits and the abolition of army MPs. "If we do not fight for reforms now, it will be our children who will suffer," she said. Ms Jennifer Karungi, who travelled from Hoima District to participate in the demonstration, said; "We are tired of bloodshed in Uganda. We want peace, democracy and change. Let them [Police] come and beat us; we are here."

The women were later surrounded by female police officers who snatched placards from their hands. The head of Parliament Police, Mr Elias Kasirabo, and Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander Andrew Sorowen seemed overwhelmed by the women's determination to resist their orders to vacate Parliament.

Mr Sorowen could not explain, when asked, how the women managed to stage a demonstration within the precinct of Parliament. After 30 minutes, it took the intervention of Mr Mafabi and Kitgumu District Woman MP Beatrice Anywar to convince the women to relocate to Kyambogo University playground, which Police designated as an alternative location for the demonstration. Shouting and chanting, they joined six busloads of FDC supporters and others colleagues in 10 taxis as well as several private cars ostensibly to celebrate Mr Wamai's victory.


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