We need an independent Electoral Commission

Friday May 17 2013

By William G. Naggaga

Mr Badru Kiggundu, chairman of Uganda’s Electoral Commission, recently unveiled the Commission’s Strategic Plan and Road Map for 2016 elections in which it estimates that Shs1.2 trillion is needed for the elections. According to Kiggundu, democracy is expensive and so we should be appreciative if we spend that money to get a democratically elected government.

Money alone will, however, not give Uganda a credible democratic election. In the past three elections, a lot of money was spent, but with mixed or negative results. The presidential elections in 2001 and 2006 ended up in the Supreme Court when the loser, Dr Kiiza Besigye, challenged the results that gave President Museveni the victory.

On both occasions, the Supreme Court ruled by a split vote in favour of the incumbent but did not deny that the elections were short of being free and fair, given the intimidation, irregularities and open stealing of votes.

In the 2011 election, the three –time loser, Dr Besigye, did not go to the Supreme Court because he had lost confidence in it, given its past rulings.

Featuring high in both the presidential and parliamentary elections from 2001 to 2011 has been the gross incompetence of the Electoral Commission. The Commission has also been accused of bias and pandering to the ruling party, an accusation they unconvincingly deny.

Also, a lot of people with dodgy qualifications found themselves elected MPs and the number of parliamentary elections overturned by law courts has been staggering. The question is whether a Commission that has been lambasted by the public and the courts for incompetence and one that is inherently partisan has the moral authority to claim that it can deliver a credible election, come 2016.


The experience of the 2007 Kenya elections still remains fresh in the minds of many right thinking people. It was so mismanaged by the Kenya Electoral Commission (which was partisan) that in the end its chairman was quoted as saying it was difficult to tell who, between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga had won the elections, although he had declared Kibaki the winner. He certainly re-wrote the history of elections by declaring a ‘winner’ when he was not sure who had won!
Kenya learnt its lesson and the new electoral commission is now completely independent and performed its role impartially in the 2013 elections.

An independent electoral commission has many advantages, the most important being acting impartially and not listening to ‘orders from above’.

The same principle should apply to recruitment of judges in Uganda. These extremely important judicial officers, at all levels, should be interviewed by an independent panel and their appointment must purely be on merit.

The President should, as he does with senior civil servants, just be the appointing authority. This does not deny him the right to reject anyone who he feels is unfit as long as he gives convincing reasons to the panel for his action. Rejection of a candidate for political reasons and his substitution with another who is more politically correct, compromises the Judiciary, as it does the EC.

An independent Electoral Commission and Judiciary and a non-partisan police force will go a long way towards giving confidence and credibility to the electoral process in this country. It does not matter how much money is given to the current Electoral Commission in Uganda, the feeling among most honest people in the country is that it carries with it a lot of past baggage.

Their credibility was badly damaged in the past two elections and there is no way it will be redeemed in 2016. Besides, the public needs new faces and cries for change and fairness. A Commission which is seen as an arm of a given political party does not inspire confidence in the other political parties.

Our electoral commissioners have on many occasions been invited to observe elections in other countries, both in Africa and beyond. Did they, for instance, bother to observe how Kenya, Ghana and other countries transitioned from a ruling party electoral commission to an independent and impartial one? The mark of an independent electoral commission is one which doesn’t care who wins and will not be swayed from the truth.

It may not be possible to prevail upon the electoral commissioners to voluntarily retire and create room for a truly independent group. Parliament can, however, for the good of this country, change the law and give Ugandans a fresh start, come 2016, party affiliations notwithstanding.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.