All factors constant, which of course is never the case, politics is a game of numbers. More often than not, however, one and one add up to 11 instead of the modest two.
The ideal would be politics as a game of ideas. The ideas in this case would attract the relevant political numbers. This is not the case most times. In fact, the practice of pitching and debating solutions to community challenges is on the verge of extinction. Most of those running for political offices would rather ‘rent’ political support than mobilise or organise numbers on the thrust of novel ideas.
Many times, both politicians and those who back them confuse two things – voters and supporters. These are two different categories of people. I will illustrate the difference using the example of a male candidate, Mbarora Burora Ninseka (not real name) who ran for a local council elective position in Buganda region in 2016.
This candidate was blessed with a large family, which included three wives and five children – all of whom were above 18 years. Quite a supportive family it was to the breadwinner. First, the spouses and children escorted Mbarora to all his campaign meetings; they often times took the microphone in turns to speak on the man’s exceptional abilities to lead the community. In short, the family ran the campaign wholeheartedly and committedly.
However, come election day, Mbarora lost the election to his competitor by less than 10 votes. The story is probably not so much about how he lost, but rather why he lost. While his entire family supported his political pitch, none of them (apart from Mbarora himself) was a registered voter. They were supporters; they were never voters!
My two-decade engagement with elections globally has taught me two important lessons: first, to know the difference between campaigning and voting; and second, to understand that voters are different from supporters. Closer home, I have witnessed many political campaign rallies gathering mammoth crowds, but only to end up with dismal voter turnout on polling day. Many of those people who chant and cheer at political meetings are sometimes mere ‘supporters’ and not ‘voters’.
The counting frame of elective politics (or call it the abacus) begins with getting on to the voters’ register. Ahead of Uganda’s 2021 General Election, official estimates show that we will have a voting population of 19.4 million. About 16.4 million are already on the national voters’ register, picked from the National Identification and Registration Authority database.
Between November 21 and December 11, the Electoral Commission is updating the national voters’ register countrywide. During this period, you can register to vote if you are a citizen aged 18 and above. This is also a window for learners who registered for national IDs in 2017 to update their particulars for purposes of voting if they have attained the voting age. Those already on the register can confirm their registration particulars, but also transfer to new voting locations if they need to.
The election management body will also compile and update registers of special interest groups including: the youth, workers, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and older persons. The bottom line is: those who wish to vote must be on the register now; those who want to contest for political offices should confirm that they are registered during this period.
No one should assume that they are registered simply because he or she has a national ID or has previously voted. Every eligible voter should endeavour to confirm his or her voting status alongside encouraging family, friends, neighbours and anyone else to secure their ability to vote.
There’s no doubt that with about 72 per cent of potential voters in 2021 aged between 18 and 40, this will be a massive election for young people. It’s going to be a battle of epic demographic proportions.
The energy, sacrifices and hopes of the young people could, however, come to nothing if they don’t secure their right and ability to vote during the currently ongoing voters’ register update exercise. Of course it is an annoying reality that there’s no provision for online voter registration – hopefully, we will get there rather sooner than later.
For now, everyone who wishes to be counted on the political abacus should brave a little red tape and bureaucracy and physically visit the update station in his or her respective parish. This is one of the first steps towards being part of the solution rather than a problem. It is the sure-way of upgrading personal status – from ‘spectator’ to ‘participant’, from ‘supporter’ to ‘voter’. As a shareholder in your own country, this is the moment to activate your shareholding rights.
The writer is an elections expert