Kampala mayoral candidates, observers and legal minds have demanded the disqualification of the ruling party candidate, Peter Sematimba, from the contest after leaked ballot papers pre-ticked in his favour were intercepted in various parts of Kampala.
Large-scale ballot stuffing and other electoral malpractices yesterday forced the Electoral Commission to suspend the voting exercise in Kampala and promise an investigation into the source of the ballot papers and boxes found in possession of private individuals.
Calls for disqualification
The local government elections went on in other parts of the country even though our correspondents talked of a very low voter turn-out, largely blamed on voter disillusionment and fatigue.
Mr Michael Mabikke, Mr Erias Lukwago, Ms Sandra Ngabo Kateblirwe and Capt. Francis Babu accused the NRM party of hatching a plan to help Mr Ssematimba win through dubious means, an accusation the NRM candidate stoutly denied.
The Uganda Law Society and the Democracy Monitoring Group (DemGroup) and other observers also called for disqualification of mayoral candidates implicated in the ballot stuffing. However, the EC said any action will be taken only after an investigation.
“If you have been adjudged an election thief, why should you (be allowed to) run again,” ULS president Bruce Kyerere said.
Mr Twinomujuni Kafunjo, an official from the DemGroup, added: “The perpetrators of the malpractices that bedeviled the Kampala electoral exercise ought to be blocked from standing for a fresh election…”
Under Article 151 (1-2) of the Local Government Act, 1997 that deals with the offences relating to voting, a person who supplies, sells, prints, interferes with the ballot boxes commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Shs300,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years. The same provision provides for disqualification from standing or participating in an election for a period not less than three years.
Despite taking security measures to ensure a peaceful election, massive rigging still took centre stage in a chaotic exercise that put the ruling party on the spot after all the seized pre-ticked ballot papers were found to be in favour of their candidates. But Mr Ssematimba yesterday called for an investigation into the allegations of ballot stuffing.
Voter ire was also visible.
“Why should they be wasting our time when they have already decided on who should be the mayor?” Mariam Namulindwa, a voter from Kawempe, asked. “It’s disappointing seeing people rigging in broad daylight. Those involved should be punished without fear or favour.”
Five boxes were found at Bat Valley and three at Public Library polling station on Buganda Road, two at Railway polling station and four boxes were found at National Theatre where two Electoral Commission polling officials were arrested and taken to police for aiding rigging. At least 70 people were yesterday arrested by police on various electoral related offences.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba yesterday told our sister radio station, KfM: “All those who have been arrested between yesterday (Tuesday) and today (Wednesday) mention all the candidates in one way or the other, therefore, the police will summon all of them to record statements.”
Rigging began at Bat Valley polling station, where five pre-ticked ballot boxes were intercepted at 3am by mayoral candidate Erias Lukwago’s agents. A fracas later ensued in this area after it emerged that Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Andrew Sorowen was allegedly among the police officers protecting ballot stuffers, a claim the police spokesperson denied.
But after hours of standoff, police later allowed the counting of the stuffed ballots but couldn’t put a finger on the suspects. In one of the boxes counted at around 7:30am in the presence of our correspondent at Bat Valley, there were 399 pre-ticked ballot papers-- all in favour of Mr Sematimba, who is also a pastor.
In a second box, there were 424 ballot papers pre-ticked in favour of the National Resistance Movement councillors and the remaining three boxes were confiscated before they were pre-ticked. The intercepted pre-ticked ballot papers at Buganda Road polling station had not yet been counted by 9:50 am waiting for Electoral Commission instructions.
A more disappointing view of the polling drama was given by EC Vice Chairman Joseph Biribonwa who visited a number of polling stations in Kampala and witnessed what voters and some mayoral candidates described as “open thuggery”.
At National Theatre polling station, reports indicate that people started voting as early as 5:30am and by 6am. Of 666 registered voters here, 58 had finished casting their vote through unclear circumstances. By the time Mr Biribonwa arrived in the area, 99 people had voted before the official time for voting. Voting opens at 7am.
In some areas of Rubaga, a group of goons, known as Kiboko squad, assaulted voters including journalists in the presence of police. Mr Nicholas Bbaale, a journalist working with Channel 44, was reportedly badly injured in a fracas that ended at Super FM which is owned by Mr Sematimba.
At least 11 people were rushed to Mengo and Rubaga hospitals following a fracas between pro-Lukwago and Sematimba’s supporters. Lubaga-Kakeeka polling station turned into a battle field following allegations that Mr Sematimba’s supporters were rigging votes.
How rigging was planned
An elaborate though disjointed rigging machinery was for several days locked in consultative meetings aimed at ensuring that National Resistance Movement (NRM) mayoral candidate Peter Ssematimba sailed through yesterday’s botched elections.
According to a source with intimate access into the workings of the ruling party, who preferred anonymity, the consultations largely came to the conclusion that Mr Sematimba could not win if subjected to a fair vote. According to the source, outgoing Kampala mayor Nasser Ntege Sebbagala suggested during one of these meetings that a second and more failsafe plan be hatched to deliver a result.
The movement of electoral materials prior to yesterday’s fiasco would therefore, be largely known by the Sematimba camp. The ballot papers would be dispatched from the Electoral Commission to the various police stations around Kampala. They would be kept for safe custody for the night. On polling day, the materials would be transported to the various polling stations under the supervision of electoral officials under the watchful eye of the police.
With this in mind, a final meeting was held at a Kampala hotel on Tuesday night. Reportedly attended by, among others, Mr Sematimba himself, Mr Sebbagala and a very senior and long-serving leader in the NRM, it was decided that Sebbagala’s plan of action would be most appropriate. A third plan of action, which is still unclear, was also agreed.
By press time, Daily Monitor could not reach the party Secretary General Mr Amama Mbabazi for comment about these allegations as his known mobile phones were switched off.
At the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, the electoral materials had been leaked to Mr Sematimba’s acolytes. The perpetrators were facilitated with among other things, food, money and alcohol to see them through the long night of pre-ticking and ballot stuffing.
According to the source, Mr Sematimba’s henchmen were only discovered because another mayoral candidate, Erias Lukwago, and his loyalists somehow came into the know of this plot.
Sematimba and Lukwago’s supporters were involved in violent confrontation for most of the night until the wee hours of Wednesday morning when police intervened. It is also emerging that several Electoral Commission officials and police officers were facilitated to look the other way as the malpractices happened.
And that is how in polling stations in the areas of Bat Valley, Nakasero 1, Buganda Road and Kalitusi, voters who arrived at the polling station at 7am found some ballot boxes almost full of ballot papers, sparking off a chain of events which culminated in the suspension of the city mayoral election. In one particular incident, a returning officer had less than 50 people ticked on his roll as having voted but the ballot boxes looked very full. This prompted voters to question the exercise.
Reported by Yasiin Mugerwa, Al-Mahadi Ssenkabirwa, Sheila Naturinda, Robert Mwanje, Emmanuel Mulondo, Isaac Khisa, Isaac Kasamani, Flavia Lanyero, Scarlet Chemarum, Ismail Musa Ladu, Clare Balondemu, Anne Nafula, Rose Mukama, Imalingat Anita and Andrew Bagala