Nebbi- Elections present voters with important choices. Whether it is a local race that will affect your community or a national race that could change the direction of the country, it is a time to consider the issues which you care about and decide which candidate you support.
Candidates can be judged in two ways: the positions they take on issues or the leadership qualities and experience that they would bring to office.
Both are important. This is the choice voters in Padyere are hoping to make in 2016 when they weigh incumbent, Mr Joshua Anywarach (Independent), against his opponents.
It appears, therefore, proper that elected representatives should be helping people.
Past experience has, however, shown that the longer an MP spends in office, the more they come to believe that this part of their job is their most important responsibility. They, thus, devote more and more energy to this function.
Mr Anywarach is aiming to stop any political overhaul with new forces coming into the battlefield.
The questions of electricity, marketing of farmers produce, bad roads, dilapidated schools and health centres, scholarships, poverty and unemployment are things he can expect to engage opponents on, with each trying to impress upon the electorate that they have the answer.
The newcomers will likely include Mr Ben Bidong, Mr Patrick Kumakech Amelo and possibly Mr Robery Onega (FDC).
The incumbent won the popular vote in 2011, beating fellow independent, Paschal Odoch, largely because Opposition supporters rallied behind him.
To strengthen his grip on the seat, he started Padyere Development Initiative.
This area, located in the highland area of West Nile sub-region, produces some of the best Arabica coffee in the country.
Farmers are, therefore, an important voting block which makes critical that any local development initiative takes care of the interests.
He said coffee farmers in Nebbi and Zombo districts have lost interest in coffee growing due to over exploitation by middlemen who tended to dictate prices.
“Since the collapse of cooperative unions, there had been instability in coffee price and coffee production,” Mr Anywarach told Saturday Monitor.
He hopes his initiative can change that. The long term solution, he notes, though, is for the government to fulfill its promise to extend electricity to this rural community under the Rural Electrification Scheme.
“Farmers could start processing the coffee locally,” he said.
Important as they are as a voting block, the farmers vote is not enough to see one into Parliament. People in Padyere say they will stick with perceived candidate competence over and above political affiliation.
Forty five-year-old voter, Ms Grace Apio (FDC) said: “Our people must not be inclined to getting money from candidates and then going on to sacrifice the best potential candidate. We should look at a candidate who can lobby for funds for our roads which are in shambles, to have our dilapidated schools get a facelift and books as well as clean and safe water.”
In the past, including in 2011, candidates typically split the vote according to the sub-counties from where each of them hailed.
For instance, Mr Anywarach enjoyed a block vote in Erussi, his home area.
He also enjoyed good backing in Parombo. Local disaffection with the ruling NRM party also played a key role in deciding the result in Erussi, while Parombo had been dominated by the Opposition since 2006.
As almost anywhere else, parliamentary contests here have been closely fought as battles.
In 2006, Mr Patrick Okumu Ringa, the former State minister for Public Service, polled 16,765 (34.8 per cent of the valid votes cast) against the Uganda Peoples Congress’ candidate, Mr David Ringechan (RIP), who won with 17,422 (36.2 per cent).
Mr Okumu Ringa went to court, seeking a recount of the invalid votes. He also challenged the results on allegations of rigging but still lost his bid.
The then Nebbi Chief Magistrate, Mr Joseph Omodo, ruled in favour of Mr Ringechan after the recount. “The recount of votes then did not affect the final results because Ringa got 69 votes recounted and David got 51 votes. David Ringechan won with 36.2% and Ringa got 34.8% of the total vote cast,” he said then.
NRM had for a long time dictated things in Padyere with the two-term Mr Okumu Ringa(1996-2006) and Dr Paschal Odoch, who served less than one term after coming through in the 2010 by-elections which were called to replace Mr Ringechan.
The sharing of power in this constituency then came to a balance in the multi-party politics era when Ringechan of UPC and Mr Anywarach shared the cake. It is early days yet to tell how it will go.
Aspiring candidate, Mr Robert Onega (FDC), says: “A member of Parliament promising to construct roads, build schools, hospitals, bring electricity, give free money, among others, is lying. I plan to come back in 2016 with new strategies and approaches to tackle the issues of the people of Padyere County, especially among the youth, elderly, women and agriculture in particular. This will help alleviate the biting poverty among the population constituted by the groups above.”
He believes that the best way to have effective service delivery is by sensitising the population about their rights.
This, he says, will equip them to hold their leaders, elected or appointed in power both in political and technical positions, accountable for their actions or deeds in their offices.
Another likely face in run-up to Padyere 2016 could be Mr Sam Ogenrwoth, formerly chief administrative officer Arua and now retired.
If he throws his hat into the ring, chances are that it will be in the yellow colour of the NRM.
Voters and candidates should brace for what has become typical to campaign tactics here over time.
There is a general tendency for name calling/appeals to prejudice, rumour mongering, guilt by association, passing of blame, promising the sky and evading real issues.
These rearguard tactics have served some well in the past and nothing has happened to suggest there will be a change this time round.
An opinion leader in Nyaravur Sub-county, Mr John Okello, 60, said: “An MP and intending candidate cannot simply ignore the fact that their constituencies hold them responsible for areas of policy that they have no direct control over. In short, politicians need to identify their constituents’ expectations and respond to them effectively with their messaging, both of which require a good deal of creativity.”
When the voters go to cast their ballot in Padyere in two years’ time, some will be thinking about whether to rally behind the likeable Mr Amelo.
For now, he appears like the outsider candidate. To the electorate he says: “With connections, we can have students to get scholarships to enhance quality education. And also enhance capacity of farmers into mechanised agriculture with access to market of their products.”