How FDC tally centre was failed

Tuesday February 22 2011

By Monitor Reporter

Kampala

Suspecting the ruling National Resistance Movement would steal the 2011 presidential vote, the Inter-Party Cooperation established its own tally centre.

IPC candidate Kizza Besigye vowed during his campaigns to announce his own set of election results “long before Badru Kiggundu and his Electoral Commission announce theirs”. To achieve that goal, IPC set up a hi-tech tally centre in a Kampala suburb to gather vote returns for each of the eight presidential candidates.

Inside the premises, 26 data entry clerks, bussed in on Friday evening, huddled in a sizeable conference room. But they were unaware for who or what purpose. Several rooms apart was a central server, the control room for the ‘independent’ tally centre, where the result from each of the 23,968 polling stations were to be relayed through mobile phone short text messaging (SMS).
Mr Wandera Ogalo, head of the IPC campaign bureau, says they trained 48,000 agents who were each offered airtime to promptly send the results immediately declared by EC presiding officers.

By 7pm on Friday, messages began popping from the agents on a computer in the server room, which were downloaded, printed and sent to the conference room for the data clerks to enter. The messages came on four different phone numbers. Each SMS contained the name of the party or candidate name and total number of ballots cast in one’s favour.

By midnight, 350 SMS had been received. The tally centre was a bee-hive of activity. But shortly after, the frequency of the SMS began slowing. In the next three hours, only 50 text messages came in. The tally centre managers became suspicious. The state, they would later say, had blocked text messaging on the four lines. Mr Ogalo blamed the glitch on Uganda Communications Commission acting executive director, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, who in the run up to the polling day warned service providers not to transmit messages containing a set of words proscribed by government.

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Mr Mutabazi’s thought was informed by raging pro-reform political demonstrations that have toppled long-serving presidents; Ben Ali of Tunisia and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak - and continue to bully their peers in North Africa/Arab Peninsula – from gaining on-line currency here. IPC felt it was the first victim of the squeeze. DemGroup, a consortium of civil society organisations, which aimed to independently tally the results also suffered a similar fate.

Except for a dedicated trunk route to the Electoral Commission tally centre in Mandela National Stadium Namboole, in Wakiso District, bulk electronic messaging other than for state organs was firewalled. It would appear the IPC did little, if any, background check on the data entrants and in the end, relatives of some intelligence operatives were absorbed as clerks. Thus the site of the tally centre that was supposed to be secret was exposed as the clerks were allowed in with their mobile phones, resulting in the military besieging the premises on Saturday evening.
There was panic and anger among party loyalists at the tally centre. Perhaps the party had no ‘Plan B’.

In the end, the centre managers turned to wait for physical declaration forms, which were hard to come by. Even results from a nearby place such as Wandegeya, a city suburb, took more than a day to be delivered to the IPC tally centre, raising suspicion the agents too could have been compromised.
The February 18 presidential and parliamentary ballot ended at 5pm, and it took roughly another two hours, and in some polling stations several hours, before the vote count per candidate was completed.

By 4:30pm on Sunday when Eng. Kiggundu announced the results from all, except 117 polling stations, and declared Mr Museveni the winner with 68 per cent, the IPC had complete results for only 1,480 polling stations and incomplete ones from 22,488 others, accounting for 1,037,033 actual votes.

This provisional IPC tally put Mr Museveni in the lead with 50.8 per cent of the votes while Dr Besigye stood at 42.5 per cent. The EC results showed Dr Besigye obtained 2,064, 963 (26%) of the 8, 272, 760 valid votes while incumbent Museveni garnered 5,428,369 votes (68%).

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