Tuesday June 3 2014

Election rigging takes place before polling date

By Muniini K. Mulera

Dear Tingasiga:

Anyone who doubts that President Museveni is possessed of a great sense of humour should read his missive about election rigging in Uganda since 1961. The President claims that the opposition parties have always cheated the NRM in the polls because the ruling party is “lax and disorganised.”

Gen Museveni’s missive, a descriptive chronicle of the stolen elections that have plagued Uganda since 1961, states: “People who should not have been elected are elected because of sectarian intoxication or because of cheating.” We agree.

The President also talks about the role of election officials and the Electoral Commission (EC) in enabling electoral malpractices. Again we agree.

Unfortunately, the President’s missive focuses on cheating on polling day, and avoids mention of more fundamental processes that predate voting day. An important avenue for election rigging is the President’s use of a very partisan police force to deny political opponents the space and airwaves to mobilise support.

Tear gas, whipping, denial of access to the airwaves and denial of permits to hold rallies are a few of the tools that are exclusively aimed at Opposition figures The new Public Order Management Act, enforced by the partisan police, legally suffocates the opponents of the ruler.

Meanwhile, the President is free to campaign for his next re-election.
Gen Museveni has taken cash-for-votes to another level. Khaki envelopes, stuffed with public money, are routinely offered to grateful recipients in exchange for votes. Presidential gifts of motor vehicles to bishops are an investment in anticipation of the next election.

The President misuses the patronage system to appoint his political cadres to such positions as Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), district and sub-county intelligence officers, and other publicly-funded positions with a brief to use any means necessary to ensure his re-election.

Just as important is the leadership of the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). This body, empowered to vet and report on the academic credentials of those who seek nomination for parliamentary or LC5 chair elections, for example, can make or break a candidate’s hopes.

The recent struggle for control of Uneb, midwifed by what Fagil Mandy, a former chairman, called “an invisible hand” may have had more to do with the 2016 elections than the fate of Uganda’s current students.

Another critical opportunity for election rigging is the composition of the Supreme Court of Uganda, a powerful body that upheld Mr Museveni’s Pyrrhic victories in 2001 and 2006.

An independent court would have overturned the official results. We should not be surprised that Mr Museveni, his eye fixed on 2016, has been insisting on offering Justice Benjamin Odoki, the Chief Justice in 2001 and 2006, a post-retirement, re-appointment to his old job.

Of course the composition and control of the EC is of critical importance in the rigging process. Gen David Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence agencies, affirmed this when he revealed that in 2006, the Museveni intelligence services had their own electoral commission based at Basiima House.

“It is our results that we pushed through to the [Kiggundu-led] Electoral Commission”, Gen Sejusa, now on the run from Gen Museveni, told The Monitor in December 2013. He claimed that Dr Kizza Besigye had received 69 per cent of the real votes, while Gen Museveni’s official tally was less than 30 per cent.

Some of those who went to war in 1981 because of a stolen election have entrenched greater mechanisms for continued rigging of elections in order to perpetuate themselves in power.

One is not surprised then, that Gen Museveni’s descriptive missive falls short on prescriptive proposals that might offer Uganda hope for real fundamental change in its electoral practices.

Dr Mulera is based in Toronto, Canada. muniinikmulera@aol.com