Monday March 14 2011

The truth is, there was no election last month

By Anne Mugisha

So the elections are over – for now! I am probably the only candidate or one of a few that participated in two constituencies! In Nakawa I had to deal with election malpractices within the FDC and opted to withdraw my candidacy so as to keep peace within my party. That fracas prepared me adequately for the bigger fracas at national level.

Now reflecting on the ethical decay, corruption and even criminal conduct of our partisan national Electoral Commission, I could never forget that this behaviour is not restricted to the national body, but the cancer has eaten into the moral fabric of ruling and opposition parties as well as the body politic of Ugandan society.

A newspaper picture of Dr Kizza Besigye presenting pre-ticked ballots to the press was a slight variation of my own presentation of completed return forms of the Nakawa FDC primaries to an NTV crew before that election was held. The NRM primaries had even more dramatic incidents like the printing of ballot papers by candidates on Nkrumah Road! To say that we all need to clean up our act is an understatement.

An honest assessment of the problem must tackle internal party election mechanisms, the national electoral commission and also introduce serious voter education to the electorate. Needless to say, expectations are higher for performance of EC because it sets the pace, has the resources and has developed knowledge and experience over the years which parties still lack.

The EC should be a shining example and a standard-setter but it rivals only the ruling party in managing botched elections that are tainted by gross irregularities like vote buying, ballot stuffing, pre-ticked ballots, lateness, poorly trained officials and outright corrupt officials. Remember also that the incompetence of the EC has been independently verified by courts of law.

In any case, my personal experience this last election period have helped me to become less judgemental or partisan about vote rigging. Any person engaged in rigging elections is an enemy of all Ugandans regardless of political affiliation.

All that Ugandans want is for the ballot box to reveal the truth at the end of the polling exercise; otherwise all those who emerge as winners are technically usurpers of the will of the Ugandan people. I am astounded by the number of journalists and analysts who keep regurgitating the numbers! It cannot be right to say that a certain candidate won with a certain percentage after overwhelming us with a befuddling level of incompetence, ballot stuffing, vote buying, pre-ticked ballots and other electoral crimes.

The truth, if we dare face it, is that there was no election last month. What happened was a pre-calculated, pre-meditated criminal event with the sole purpose of renewing a mandate and bestowing some semblance of legitimacy on the incumbent government. The incompetence in covering their tracks torpedoed both the new mandate and its legitimacy. As the opposition, let us face the painful truth. We can no longer plead naivety – that was an argument for 2001 and 2006.

Today, we must admit that we were vain to believe that we could win in an election over which we had no control or guarantees - moreover with the same EC that we proved had failed the free and fair test twice. We lost the election when we failed to dismantle the EC; we lost when our own compromised party electoral commissions handpicked candidates instead of conducting free and fair elections; we lost when we were lured into participating in a fraudulent exercise that our vanity fooled us into believing we could win.

The lesson of the election was the affirmation that political change will not come to Uganda via the ballot box until we dismantle not only the EC, but also the culture of impunity within our parties and a societal tradition that allows corrupt individuals to thrive while honest people wither.

Ms Mugisha is a democracy activist
abusingye@hotmail.com

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