On Thursday last week, voters in Iganga went to the polls to elect their district Woman MP following the death of former MP Grace Kaudha Hailat, who passed on in July this year. NRM’s Asinde Brenda was announced winner apparently, beating the FDC candidate and three Independents.
Whereas on the surface the election seemed calm; there were a number of incidents that occurred and may have gone unnoticed. The attacks on polling stations by supporters of different candidates that led to the disruption and subsequent cancellation of voting at Bulubandi and Bumpingu polling stations were regrettable. Malpractices, including multiple voting and ballot stuffing at, for instance, Nabitovu Polling Station, which resulted into more votes being cast than the registered voters, cast doubt on the integrity of the election. Voters at some polling stations felt a sense of unease by the actions of some security agents, including actions of subtle intimidation and threats in some cases.
The Iganga by-election came on the heels of a campaign period that was marred with isolated incidents of violence that left some people badly injured. While the police may have attempted to keep law and order at polling stations on the election day, the presence and actions of some security agencies in the district had a disruptive effect and may have kept some people away from the polling exercise. On the sidelines of the polling process, female residents of Iganga predicted well in advance a low voter turn out on account of fear of possible polling day chaos. Their predictions around low participation were not in vain; only about 77,000 voters showed up out of the expected 254,450.
Francis Muwanika, 29, a registered voter of Nabitende, Iganga could not hide his disappointment with Uganda’s feeble electoral nuances. On polling day, Muwanika went over his usual business without bothering to reach out to his polling station to vote. Asked why he wasn’t concerned about voting, he quickly alluded to elections in Uganda being a pre-determined affair and, therefore, saw no need to ‘legitimise’ an already preconceived outcome.
His fears were re-echoed by many in the district who either went on with their routine chores or sat in rings at trading centres watching the few people who defied common thinking and made their way to their respective polling stations.
The Iganga by-election may have gone by, quietly, but it further revealed serious fissures that have implications on Uganda’s wider governance platform. Varied misgivings about public political processes were evident. It was apparent that the incentive to meaningfully participate was absent. I hope that the recent Iganga by-election does not in any way set yet another bad precedent that it is okay for final results to be announced without capturing returns from all polling stations in the overall tally. We saw this happen during the 2016 general elections, and it happened again in Iganga where results from Bulubandi, Bumpingu, Nakalama and Nabitovu polling stations were not captured in the overall final tally announced by the Electoral Commission.
While there may have been compelling reasons that led to this occurrence, it set yet another bad template.
It simply meant that votes of 2,900 or so people who may have voted at those four polling stations just did not count. This probably informs us why some people just cannot be convinced that their votes indeed matter. With some of the incidents observed in the Iganga by-election, the question of streamlining the role of security agencies becomes more and more important. Security agencies should ensure orderliness of elections and security of those who take part in them. Their role is not to politic, but to protect and serve the interest of the citizenry.
We must disintegrate the growing perception that elections are purely security or military operations. We need to be more careful so as not to end up having security-generated politicians, but rather representatives who are genuinely voted by the electorate in a free, fair and peaceful elections.
Mr Kaheru is the coordinator, Citizens’
Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.