The election of 1980 is a vital reference point in Uganda’s history mainly because ballots transformed into bullets.
Mr Yoweri Museveni, a minor candidate in the election leading the emerging Uganda Patriotic Movement party, took it upon himself to avenge what he called a stolen election by waging war against the government of Milton Obote, who controversially defeated Democratic Party’s Dr Paul Ssemogerere.
Obote was, for the second time, eventually overthrown by the military in 1985, having also been deposed by the military led by Idi Amin in 1971.
Obote’s own use of the military had prevented the country from going to scheduled polls in 1967, leading to an 18-year lag from 1962 to 1980 without elections.
As he campaigned in 1980, Mr Museveni preached the importance of elections as a way of choosing leaders, and threatened to wage war against the government if the polls were rigged.
Mr Museveni eventually captured power in 1986 and ruled for 10 years before the country went to presidential elections again in 1996 when he faced Dr Ssemogerere, with Muhammad Mayanja Kibirige as an also-run.
Dr Ssemogerere had served in Mr Museveni’s government for almost a decade before resigning to challenge him. Whereas the scale of irregularities may differ between the 1980 and 1996 elections, Dr Ssemogerere says “much of what went wrong in 1980 went wrong in 1996”.
He alleged a number of irregularities in 1996, including ballot box stuffing, changing results and multiple voting.
Dr Ssemogerere, who during his time as an active politician filed several petitions, winning a couple of landmark cases in the fight to open up political space, says he did not go to court to challenge the 1996 election because “you have to make a number of considerations before you go to court”.
It was left to Dr Kizza Besigye to, on two occasions, test the court process by filing petitions after the elections in 2001 and 2006. Both petitions failed in the same style, being swung in Mr Museveni’s favour by Mr Benjamin Odoki, then Chief Justice, because there was a tie among the other justices. In 2001, it was a three-to-two decision, and then a four-to-three decision in 2006.
The rulings in both cases were virtually carbon copies of each other. All the Supreme Court justices, after agreeing that the election had been riddled with various irregularities, to which we shall return shortly, concluded that the irregularities were not sufficient to alter the final results and upheld the election.
In both cases, a clause in the Presidential Elections Act was invoked, which requires a petitioner to prove that the irregularities he alleges were to the extent that the final outcome changed to favour whoever was eventually declared winner.
Gen David Sejusa, the estranged former coordinator of intelligence services, maintains that Dr Besigye won the 2006 election by close to 70 per cent, but that an operation conducted by the military changed the results and gave Mr Museveni 58 per cent of the votes.
Dr Besigye, according to the official results published by the Electoral Commission, polled 37 per cent of the votes in 2006, with the remainder going to the then DP president Ssebaana Kizito, UPC’s Miria Obote, and the independent candidate Abed Bwanika.
In 2001, the official results show Mr Museveni won by 69 per cent, followed by Dr Besigye with 28 per cent. The rest of the votes were shared between Mr Aggrey Awori, Mr Kibirige Mayanja and Mr Chapaa Karuhanga.