We had started UPM in June 1980, less than six months to the general election. Much as we agreed to take part in the elections, we were sure we could not win because of the little time we had to sell our manifesto to the electorate in the country
Missed out. In Witness this week, we talk to Israel Mayengo, an aspiring candidate for the newly-created political party Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) during the 1980 elections. He was held along the numerous roadblocks on the Kampala-Masaka highway and he missed to be at the nomination offices in time. Mayengo narrates his experience to Henry Lubega.
We had started UPM in June 1980, less than six months to the general election. Much as we agreed to take part in the elections, we were sure we could not win because of the little time we had to sell our manifesto to the electorate in the country. The party was still new, unfortunately at the time, the structure of voting for president was based on the British system.
Under this arrangement, party with the majority members in Parliament chose the president.
I was to stand in South Masaka constituency on a UPM ticket. South Masaka covered parts of Masaka District and Ssese Islands before the break up to give birth to Kalangala District. At the time, I was a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which was the Parliament of the day.
On nomination day, I left Kampala to go to Masaka for nomination. There were several roadblocks along the way. However, when I reached the roadblock in Katonga near the bridge, I was held there much longer for reasons the soldiers would not explain. I was held for more than an hour.
When I was finally released, I went to Mpugwe trading centre to pick the people who were to nominate me at the Masaka District offices. It is me who had opened those offices in the home of Tanansi Bazeketa which was then the only surviving reasonable structure in Masaka after the 1979 war. It had been my operation office when Yusuf Lule appointed me the in-charge of Masaka region all the way to Mpigi as the liberating Tanzanian soldiers advanced to topple Idi Amin.
I got to the venue four minutes past the stipulated time and the district returning officer called Isaac Muwanga told me, “Too late, you are time-barred”, no amount of explaination and pleading would change his mind. He refused my nomination papers despite the explanations for my delay. That way, my party UPM lost out on having a candidate for the elections. The other UPM candidate stood in Mbarara north, and that was the party president Yoweri Museveni. He stood against the DP candidate Sam Kutesa but he lost to Kutesa.
Unlike now where it’s possible to seek legal redress, those days it was not possible. There was no law under which the elections were being organised. The NCC just made an announcement and appointed an electoral commission but there was no proper law under which those elections were organised. Even the word of the person who announced the election results was final, it could not be challenged anywhere.
The NCC government was just trying to revive the judicial system, which had broken down. Amin had abolished many laws, including the electoral laws because for him, elections were not part of leadership.
History of the 1980 general elections
After the 1964 Referendum on the lost counties, Uganda went without any national election for 18 years (1964 to 1980). Following the overthrow of the Idi Amin regime in 1979, the new government organised indirect elections in December, 1980.
On June 25, 1980, the chairman of the Military Commission, Paulo Muwanga, established the Electoral Commission to organise and conduct the general election, which were eventually conducted on December 10-11, 1980.
The Commission for the 1980 elections comprised of K.M.S Kikira as chairperson, and three other members, namely, Egweu S, Kera A. Bilali A and M. Matovu. Mr Vincent Sekkono was the Secretary to this commission, while Magemeso Namungalu was the information officer.
The result was a victory for the Uganda People’s Congress of president Milton Obote, which won 75 of the 126 seats.
Voter turnout was 85.2 per cent. The UPC was the only party to contest all 126 seats, and its candidates were returned unopposed in 17 constituencies. The opposition claimed that the UPC had only won through widespread fraud.