KAMPALA- Members of the Opposition and civil society activists have called for electoral reforms, saying the current election system breeds and promotes electoral fraud.
They indict the current Electoral Commission of being incapable of conducting free and fair elections. The EC refutes both claims. But on Tuesday, President Museveni rubbed more salt in the wound when he said Electoral Commission officials collude with some people to slot pre-ticked ballots into the ballot box.
The President’s fury was triggered by the May 22 by-election for the Luweero District Woman MP where his ruling NRM party candidate lost to the Democratic Party flag bearer by more than 16,000 votes.
The claims of election fraud are not new nor are they far-fetched.
Since 2011, court has annulled 11 parliamentary and local government seats and ordered fresh elections because of the electoral fraud by the candidates or failure by the Electoral Commission to conduct the election in accordance with the law.
Besides helping political fraudsters to get elected to undeserved positions, the election theft has imposed a staggering financial burden on the taxpayer.
The 11 by-elections brought about by electoral fraud since 2011 have cost the taxpayer at least Shs4 billion, according to official figures of the Electoral Commission.
Of the 16 by-elections held since 2011, only five were caused by death of the incumbent or the incumbent absconding from duty and they cost Shs2 billion.
These by-election costs are besides the hundreds of millions of shillings the EC has to pay to the petitioners, as awarded by the courts, in costs and general damages. The petitioners refused to reveal the amount of money court ordered EC to pay them in costs.
In most of the 11 nullified elections, court blamed the EC for not playing its role to stop electoral malpractices. Thus President Museveni’s Tuesday indictment on the EC for election fraud is corroborated by the court findings.
For example, in a petition where former Luweero District Woman MP Rebecca Nalwanga sued the EC and her rival Ms Brenda Nabukenya of the Democratic Party when she lost a by-election in 2012 by about 30 votes, court faulted the EC for not conducting a mandatory vote recount as requested by the petitioner. Court also indicted the EC for not employing competent people to fix the ballot box seals.
However, what is interesting is that the bulk of the election fraud, which brought about all these by-elections, was committed by the President’s ruling NRM party.
Commenting on the financial impact of the by-elections on the EC’s budget and operations, the spokesperson, Mr Jotham Taremwa, said: “It is the constitutional mandate that we have to fulfill and if we have a shortfall, we go back to the government. We develop an internal budget estimate and the likely costs.”
The Constitution provides that upon an elective position falling vacant, an election shall be held within 60 days.
“Whenever a vacancy exists in Parliament, the Clerk to Parliament shall notify the Electoral Commission in writing within 10 days after the vacancy has occurred; and a by-election shall be held within 60 days after the vacancy has occurred,” reads the Parliamentary Elections Act.
Mr Steven Tashobya, the chairperson Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, blamed all political actors for the avoidable expenses on by-elections caused by electoral fraud.
“That is a lot of money but it goes to parties’ responsibilities in an election. The biggest culprits have been those due to lack of qualifications and bribery. On two or three occasions, it has been the EC. In order to avoid that, political parties should have time during their primaries to scrutinise their candidates,” he said.
Mr Tashobya said all political parties should vet their candidates, sensitise them about electoral laws and engage voters to reject bribes from the contestants during campaigns.
Mr Tashobya said the government is considering introducing a law to bar candidates convicted of electoral fraud and malpractices from contesting in any subsequent election.
“We may consider in future that candidates who are disqualified on account of voter bribery should not participate again in elections. Some candidates are disqualified and again go back [for re-election]. But if they knew that bribing voters would disqualify them, they would not involve themselves in it,” Mr Tashobya said.